Monday, September 26, 2005

My job totally rocks

The major part of my job consists of meeting with graduate students and determining their ability to converse with and impress the donors who are funding their research. Basically, I've been flipping through the book of pre-doc fellowships and choosing research areas that interest me. Then, I get to e-mail them under the auspices of the department (which procures and grants their funding), treat them (and me) to coffee, and make them explain their research and their field to me. As you might guess - this is a blast.

Today, I met with a shifty-eyed theoretical physics student in a truly bad shirt. I adored him at first sight. He did not, however, seem that happy to see me (note to self: avoid interviewing physics grad students while wearing cute brown suit), and it took him a while to relax and make eye contact. In the meantime, however, I was given a 45-minute lecture on string theory, models and toy models, and big stuff and small stuff (which I love - Powers of Ten, you know). He's working on String Theory within a toy model, a two dimensional dynamic universe. (The two dimensions? Distance and time. Who knew you could just choose time as a dimension?)

As he was explaining what we currently believe about the Big Bang, I interrupted: "I've always heard that the universe was very small before the Big Bang. How small was it? Galaxy small, planet small, football-field small?"

He took a second and rolled his eyes away from mine, and started whispering to himself. "I'm getting it out of physics units," he explained.

Finally, he looked back at me and said, "Ten to the negative forty-second meters."

Now, I'm pretty sure that a negative power means that this would mean the universe started way smaller than a meter...way, way smaller - and that can't be right. I gave him a blank stare.

"That's like a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a meter," he explained.

"That's small," I said.

"Yeah, it is."