I just can’t believe that it’s time for me to write the last blog post for this residency! These
three months flew by so quickly, but I’m glad I had this unique opportunity to work with Matej
and learn so many things.
My week was very busy but memorable. I traveled to Prague and Berlin and now I’m back in
Greece to visit my parents for the holidays. One of the highlights of the trip to Prague was my
visit to DOX - Centre for Contemporary Art (after Matej’s recommendation!). It’s a unique
place with very interesting exhibitions.
In other news, I got interviewed by several media outlets about a planetarium show I produced and presented about the Science of Star Wars. I hope we get that much publicity for our movie!
Speaking of which, we haven’t made any progress, since we were both busy, but the holiday
time will be full of work! I’ve also started a book by David Bohm about Causality and Chance
in Modern Physics, which is very relevant to our project with Matej in terms of the philosophical aspect and I find it really interesting so far.
Before finishing my last blog, I would like to thank once again Julia and Kate for all the help
they provided to us during the last months. Without them, nothing would be possible. Finally,
my dream to collaborate with an artist - which I had mentioned in my application for the
residency - has become a reality :)
Hope to see you soon!
It is incredible that we are almost couple of weeks away from the end of this residency! It’s
been three wonderful months so far and I really look forward for the future, because that was
just the beginning of a long-term collaboration.
Last week I took a first look at Matej’s footage and I was really impressed by his work so far.
The “raw material” is great, and I’m sure our movie will be both aesthetically pleasing and -
the most important - thought provoking.
Next week Matej and I will start the production of our sci-fi movie, including editing of the
footage we got from TRIUMF and the manipulation of my experimental data. All of these will
be presented in the framework I’ve discussed so many times in this blog (but that’s the last
one): the connection of ancient pre-socratic philosophy with the modern ideas of quantum
mechanics and relativity and the connection of humans with the universe.
We are also waiting for an answer about our abstract submission for the Leonardo
symposium, which I have a good feeling that it will get accepted, and in the next few days an
interview we gave at the TRIUMF laboratory will be out online.
That’s all for now, more after Christmas! :)
Last Friday, thanks to a generous contribution of SciArt, I was able to visit Thanassis at the TRIUMF research facility in Vancouver. This step was a critical part of our collaboration. I recorded a lot of film material inside the DRAGON facility and the collider hall. Predominantly still video scenes. The most exciting part was being able to take a ride in a crane which offered nice rolling shots of the whole facility form a birds-eye perspective. I had the opportunity to examine all the research equipment carefully and think about how to bring the concepts of what they represent both, physically and philosophically together in our science fiction movie. By the way, we keep calling it a movie, but it will be rather almost three dimensional a spatial experiment because it will be projected in 360 degrees inside planetarium dome.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet the whole Dragon team led by Chris Ruiz. Everyone was very open and helped to facilitate the entire visit and movie shoot. On Chris's suggestion right now we are in negotiation with the Vancouver Planetarium about using their 360 dome camera. If this would work out, we could do a hi-res 360 scan of the whole facility. That will be a fantastic addition to the movie. Fingers crossed.
An equally essential parts of my visit were our lengthy discussions with researcher Devin Connolly about nature of the data collected at the DRAGON facility and possibilities for its visualization. After December 15th we are starting working on that.
At the time of my visit to TRIUMF, together with Thanassis, we were able to take over SciArt's Instagram. Below I am sharing a few photographs of the visit. We were also interviewed TRIUMF media center. The interview should be published soon.
I would like to thank everyone at TRIUMF for a great deal of hospitality and feeding my curiosity about particle physics: Thanassis, Chris, Devin and Ashwini
Hello world! I came back to Hamilton from Vancouver last Wednesday. The trip was A M A Z I N G! I learned a lot during the experiments and the most important is that we made a huge step in our project with Matej. We didn’t have as much time as we really wanted, but we managed to get many things done during three very busy days. Matej took footage from the lab from every possible way - even from a crane ~ 7m tall! - and had lots of discussions with local scientists who were very excited about our project. I think he enjoyed the lab and the people there and I am very happy that I was part of this experience.
The “raw material” for our sci-fi movie is almost ready and now we need to get my experimental data into the game around mid December, when Matej will be done with his academic obligations. We will also start working on the 3D animations and the footage we got from the lab then. We expect the movie to be ~20 minutes long and we plan to have our “world premiere” at McCallion Planetarium, here in Hamilton, this April.
Something we are really excited about is that we might have a chance to get lab footage from a 360 camera! We have made some initial conversations with a Planetarium in Vancouver, which can borrow it to us. It’s not final yet, but it would be awesome if we can get it.
See you next week! :)
This week we applied with Thanassis to a National Academy of Sciences Arthur M Sackler
Colloquium on Collaborative Creativity While we discussed the colloquium, we stumbled upon a
science fiction movie both of us admire - 2001: A Space Odyssey. We decided to watch it again
and write about it. So here are my notes from the movie:
I applaud the fact that music and sound effects do not drive this film. They are present but only
where it is necessary. This lack of sound renders the piece almost a silent movie. This absence is
very well balanced with stunning imagery. I have three favorite scenes. The opening scene, the
"trans-dimensional" flight, and the ending.
Of course, I also appreciate all the spaceship designs, but these three scenes, or at least one of
them, are quite unusual for a science fiction movie. The one that stands out for me the most is
the opening scene. The invention of the tool, how the tool turns into a weapon, and discovery
of the obelisk are contrasted with the "everyday life" of the mammals. The way how this scene
cuts into the following image, a flying spaceship, are just gorgeous. There is so much said
without words. Regarding the relationship between sound and image, I would also highlight the
silent explosion scene in the decompression chamber.
The space travel that follows after the discovery of the last obelisk near Jupiter represents that
state of the art computation and computer graphics of the end of the sixties. Personally, I
appreciate its simple proto-aesthetics.
The ambiguity of the storyline and its ending is forcing the viewer to rely upon, or just
appreciate images. This uncertainty was quite radical at the time and leaves the ending to the
Woohoo! It’s been 10 weeks since we started collaborating with Matej and things have started
to become really interesting! As you may already know if you read that blog - I’ve mentioned
it so many times - this week I’m traveling to Vancouver, BC to participate in two experiments
in the TRIUMF lab and Matej will also be there for few days to work together on our science
fiction planetarium movie. At that time we will also takeover SciArt Center’s Instagram
account, so get ready for some really neat science posts!
Beyond that, we have also submitted an abstract for a symposium organized by Leonardo -
the international society for the arts, sciences and technology. It is called Role/Play:
Collaborative Creativity and Creative Collaborations and it’s something Julia brought to
our attention - thank you once again! Actually this is my first time submitting an abstract for a
non-physics related conference and I’m very excited about it! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to
attend it, since I’ll be in Germany for - guess what - a nuclear physics workshop/conference,
but I’m sure that Matej will represent our collaboration perfectly! Working for the actual
abstract was also a very funny experience, because it turned out that we have both written
very similar texts after we compared them. I conceive it as a sign that our collaboration is in a
good track :)
While working on that, Matej also shared a short video from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece
2001: A Space Odyssey, the dawn of man scene.
This is an iconic science fiction movie and we both agree on the fact that we should use it as
an inspiration for our own creation. Obviously we are not even close to the genius of
Kubrick’s, however we can grab some of his ideas and incorporate them to the movie. We
want the audience to realize that its existence is inseparable with the rest of the universe.
See you all next week from Vancouver!
Past week I had been quite busy because my school sent me to a three-day conference in Louisiana. However, I had been developing our sci-fi story. As Kate Schwarting suggested, in term of the narrative path, I Had been looking at Samuel Beckett's Not I for character development and Tim Ingold’s concept of wayfaring for storyline format.
According to Ingold "In wayfaring, … one follows a path that one has previously travelled in the company of others, or in their footsteps, reconstructing the itinerary as one goes along. Only upon reaching his destination, in this case, can the traveller truly be said to have found his way.” (p.16, 2016)
Another sources of inspiration in relation to the form of our story line is Borghes’s science fiction story Garden of Forking Paths and Interactive Digital Narrative by Koenitz, Ferri, et al.
As Thanassis suggested, I had been also looking into Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander and I'm considering adding to our collection of characters - as Democritos, Leucippus, Epicurus, and Lucretius.
Ingold, Tim. Lines: A Brief History (Routledge Classics) (p. 16). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
We are have crossed the half way point of this residency program – but I’m sure that my collaboration with Matej will go far beyond that – and things look great. This week we decided take a step back and search for more inspiration. We are both quite busy in our work lives: Matej is at a conference in New Orleans – lucky guy – and I’m working on the preparations for my trip in Vancouver, which is next week.
Nevertheless, I found some spare time and looked for animations, mainly through platforms like Tumblr that we could use as influence for our sci-fi show.
We also got some references on storytelling and theory of theatre from Kate - thanks again :) which will definitely help us in terms of structuring the show.
Beyond that, I went back to my ancient Greek philosophy readings and more specifically into the works of the pre-Socratic philosophers Heraclitus and Democritus. Every time I read about their teachings I get fascinated by the fact that they did that over 2000 years ago! Also, I find intriguing the fact that their philosophy doesn’t only cover the “physical sciences”, but politics politics and society. The last bit is also connected to my mentality on how a scientist should behave in a society (see previous blog– -interview with Matej).
It is also worth noted that the philosophy of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, that followed the pre-Socartics, is the foundation of the western school of thought.
Two of the quotes that stood out when I was reading were the following:
“You cannot get to the same river twice” by Heraclitus
Which is connected to his famous “everything moves” quote. The universe is in a constant motio. Despite the fact that something may seem stable, in a more deep sense it is always changing. The most striking example is ourselves: we grow older every day, our cells are regenerated entirely every decade!
“Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.” by Democritus
Democritus was, in modern terms, a very strong advocate for materialism. According to him, everything was either atoms or void space. Even the psyche was, according to him, made out of fire atoms.
Brace yourselves, because my blogs for the next two (maybe three) weeks will be all about nuclear physics experiments and how they help us understand our origins!
Thanks to SciArt’s contribution, I finally purchased airplane tickets and Airbnb in Vancouver, so I am ready to visit TRIUMF at the end of November. I am looking forward to some great camera shots around the particle collider. These shots will become part of the science fiction movie we are preparing with Thanassis. I am very excited about its non-traditional format. It will be made especially for Thanassis's planetarium. This planetarium is smaller than the Hayden at the Museum of Natural History, but that is, in my opinion, an advantage. Its capacity is, I think, somewhere between ten to twenty people, which could offer genuinely personal and immersive experience with the projections. We are even considering using one or two actors, which would also be unique, since actors are traditionally not present in planetarium shows. I realized that creating a storyboard for such presentation is not an easy task. We already started discussing possibilities, but it is far from finished. First, we are trying to outline "characters" and other elements that would create networks of relationships with data from the particle collider. We are considering to use early atomists - ancient philosophers Democritos, Leucippus, Epicurus, and Lucretius with his poem Derrerum Natura. We would like to trace the evolution of the atomist and materialist theory thru the history into recent scientific theories of relativity and quantum physics. We would like to trace addresses of various elements that we are made of, to specific types of stars and eras, where these atoms were born. We found a few inspiring artworks below:
The last week was very productive for our team. We had a Skype call last Sunday, where we discussed a bit about the story of our sci-fi planetarium show, and the details for our trip to Vancouver. To be honest, we don’t have a concrete plan yet, however there are many ideas on the table. The only question now is how we will synthesize them in order to serve our narrative.
Our main topic will be the atomic theory, as formulated by the Greek Philosophers, and how it was evolved through the years until the birth of Quantum Mechanics. We also want to raise awareness about the connection of humans with the universe. One of my ideas for the second part was to have a human body disassembled and then the atoms of which the person was made of swirl around the dome and return back to the cosmos.
Matej has already found a way to access and manipulate my experimental data, and he’s also planning to perform some simulations of different star types which produce different elements in the universe.
The weirdness of quantum mechanics was also brought to the table. I shared a video with Matej, where at the first part an electron revolves aroud a nucleus, much like a planet revolves around the Sun. That was our old understanding of the electrons, before the quantum formulation. At the second one, things become more interesting: the electron jumps from one place to another, until at the end it is transformed into a probability distribution around the nucleus. We cannot locate the electron, but we can calculate its probability of being at a specific region around the nucleus.
How we first though electrons revolve around a nucleus, and how the actually move.
This week I installed the Python ROOT library via Unix terminal and tried to open some data files that I received from Thanassis. Some of it is real data and some of it is a simulation. It worked out, but I still need to make some minor adjustments to get what we need. I also found out how to export an ASCII XML file, which is a critical step for the possible data visualization. Now I will attempt to install the ROOT library directly into Autodesk Maya and Houdini, but even if that will not work out, we can use the ASCII file instead.
The ROOT is a compelling data analysis platform made by the CERN. I was astonished at what I found in the files I received. The Dragon is using an impressive amount of variables. I think I counted somewhere between 50 and 100. In our case, a data variable equals to one data input from the particle collider experiment. This is very exciting, and I am learning a lot!
I am still working on the story for the science fiction movie where we are going to use the data visuals. The story is not in a presentable form yet, but hopefully next week!
(Listen to Matej's art an science podcast at biocollider.art)
This week we had a Skype meeting with Kate Schwarting. We discussed our progress so far and our short term goals. Kate gave us some piece of advice and she could also help us in terms of the storytelling techniques we’re going to use given her previous theatre experience.
We still working on a way to use my research data on a 3D animation software that Matej uses. I think we are close to a breakthrough ☺
In three weeks Matej and I will be at Vancouver, BC to visit the TRIUMF lab. I’ll participate in two experiments with different setups: the first one will be at DRAGON (see previous blog post) and the other one at IRIS (more in future blog).
Matej will have the unique experience to visit a word class nuclear physics laboratory, discuss with other researchers and take pictures/videos for our planetarium show. During last week’s meeting, he told us that he’s thinking of using Democritus as one of the main characters of the sci-fi story we are working on. I find it an amazing idea to connect ancient philosophers with modern research like nuclear astrophysics.
This week I received an official invitation for visiting TRIUMF which is very exciting. We also focused on finding out a way how to translate raw ROOT data file from Thanassis’s DRAGON experiment into a format readable by 3D programs like Maya and Houdini. So far it looks like I need to write a simple Python patch to do the translation. Luckily Python is part of both Maya and Houdini, and there is a Python ROOT library that should ease the job. Houdini is an excellent data visualization program and works well with Maya, so I am looking forward to digging into this!
(Listen to Matej's art an science podcast at biocollider.art)
Things are going great between me and Matej! We are still trying to find an elegant way to share my data in an easy-to-read format and after that he will consult his coleagues to consider ways to incorporate them in our sci-fi movie.
Apart from that, Matej will visit me at TRIUMF lab in Vancouver next month to see the lab, take pictures of the DRAGON facility and some short videos. He might use them for the planetarium show, or other future projects.
The experiment that will be running at that time will be 15O(α,γ)19Ne. 15O is the beam and 19Ne is the nucleus will be synthesized. 15O has 8 protons and 7 neutrons (thus the 15, which is its mass number). The “common” oxygen is 16O, with 8 protons and 8 neutrons and 99.762% of all oxygen atoms on Earth are like that. 15O is an unstable isotope, meaning that it cannot stay that way for long. It decays into 15N, by converting one proton into a neutron, a positron (positive electron) and a neutrino. For how long it will remain like that before decaying is called mean lifetime and it’s a statistical quantity. If we had 100 15O atoms, we would had only 50 in approximately 2 minutes! Now imagine that we create a beam of these atoms, thousands and thousands of them! These radioactive ion beams, like 15O, consist one of the huge advances of nuclear science in the late 1980’s. TRIUMF is one of the few radiactive beam facilities worldwide and the only one in Canada.
The 15O(α,γ)19Ne reaction is believed to occur in massive red stars, like Betelgeuse, the brightest star of the Orion constellation. Reactions like this one are critical to understand how stars produce energy and how they create the chemical elements.
Betelgeuse, the brightest star of the Orion constellation (left). An image taken from the ALMA telescope (right)
I am extremely happy that Matej will make that trip! It will be a great experience for him and a great opportunity for us to disseminate our research with the public. As I’ve already mentioned in previous blogs, art is the best way to convey ideas and feelings to people.
This weekend I started a podcast show about art and science - biocollider.art. The first published podcast is an interview with Thanassis. You can sign up for the podcast also at the iTunes store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/biocollider/id1294166099?mt=2
I am thrilled that further step we are taking is processing data from the cyclotron particle collider and I will be able to visit Thanassis at TRIUMF and shoot a short movie about the collider and Dragon project. This visit will be a big step in the development of the science fiction movie. We still have to decide how exactly we will work with the data. There are multiple avenues we can take and incorporate into the film, so now we are in the process of choosing the best one.
This week was quiet for me and Matej. Beyond the publication of my interview – which can be found here (https://t.co/W2LRfcxc1Y) – check it out Matej did a wonderful work on it -
and a Skype call with Julia, where we discussed our projects so far, we didn’t produce much.
Tonight we had our weekly meeting and we were considering the possibility of Matej travelling with me at TRIUMF lab in Vancouver next month, to shoot some shots of the experimental hall for our sci-fi planetarium show. He also wants to come over to Hamilton to visit McCallion Planetarium and get a better idea about the venue. I have also shared some data from my latest experiment. He will discuss with some artists in his school to find ways of visualizing them. One of his ideas is to use some of my 1D histograms as coordinates for the movement of a 3D object.
Things are looking good from our part and great things are on the making!
To better define our collaboration and inspire ideas I conducted a thorough interview with Thanassis. We spoke about many interesting aspects of his current research and compared similarities in our interests, essential for future collaboration. I really enjoy Thanassis' philosophical approach to fundamental research and the way how he positions his research concerning philosophy and historical influences of the evolution of scientific worldview.
T: I am sure that all of us once starred at the night sky, and felt lonely and meaningless under the vastness and complexity of the universe. In a certain way, my research is trying to subvert this feeling and instead is seeking to highlight our intimate connection to the universe. We are a living part of it. Figuratively, you are a way for the universe to know itself. Everything made out of matter is made of atoms, including nature and ourselves. Atoms come in a wide variety of classes and are classified into the periodic table with about 100 elements. The whole universe is composed of these elements. If the entire universe would be a book, we could say that it is written in an alphabet of one hundred letters. Another fascinating thing is that between us and the universe there is not a real difference because we are primarily made of the same stuff. A human being is basically a large group of atoms with a mission to develop an understanding on how the universe works. Atoms in our bodies came together in such context that we are able to think about the universe, why it is here, how did it evolve. Scientists are like “psychotherapists” of the universe. (hahaha)
M: It is very intriguing that this way the universe is able actually to observe itself. What do you think about the role of general intelligence in the universe, consciousness and fine-tuning of the universe to sustain life?
T: I do not have a very robust opinion on that. Amongst the whole variety of published opinions, there is one particularly interesting idea, which I do not fully believe at the moment. If we assume that quantum mechanics really does work in the universe, even the smallest constituents of matter, atoms have their own consciousness. But that is a bit radical idea, and I really have to look more into that. I do not fully embrace it. (hahaha)
M: I was more thinking about the Boltzmann’s brain paradox. If you give atoms infinite amount of time in space, because of random recombination, they could eventually form an “accidental brain.” Mathematically speaking, if there is an infinite amount of time, there is an infinite number of positions and shapes the atoms can take.
T: Yes there is the whole thing about alternative universes or multiverse which is very controversial in our field. It is almost split opinion. Half of the scientists believe in it, the other half does not.
M: Where are you on that spectrum?
T: I am more inclined to believe in the multiverse, but I am closer to the middle right now. Eventually, as a physicist, I would have to take one or the other position. There is no middle ground.
M: This is very interesting. In a rigorous science, there is a point that you actually have to take a position?
T: Some of these things are more philosophical than the rest of the physics. You have to first take the position philosophically, on how you interpret quantum mechanics, and then you continue researching it.
M: How would you describe the experiment you are working on currently?
T: Beyond the simplest elements such as hydrogen and helium, the rest of the elements are created in astrophysical environments. The lives of the stars determine the origin of the elements in the solar system, in the galaxy, and ultimately in the whole universe. Me, as an experimentalist, I am trying to recreate some of the reactions, that we believe are happening inside astrophysical environments. From these results, we are seeking to retrieve data that will help theorists to predict the abundance of the elements in our solar system. In the current experiments, we are studying the heavy elements. Heavy elements are the elements heavier than Iron - which is one of the most bound isotopes in the universe. The reaction I am studying is supposed to change the outcome of nucleosynthesis and eventually the abundance of the heavy elements in the solar system. Instead of directly creating heavy elements we produce lower mass elements. By recreating a reaction like this, we can get an estimate on how fast such reactions happen inside the stars. By retrieving information about this process, we can input the values into a model which eventually also creates the heavy elements. We are observing how their abundance and production changes in the model. Our part, as experimentalists, is to give the theorist the numbers and they do the rest of the job.
M: So, “We are all made of star stuff?”1
T: It was a brilliant phrase that had a lot of impact. Our bodies are made of elements that come from the stars, as I mentioned previously. Except for hydrogen. But hydrogen is, in a way more exciting because it was created three minutes after the Big Bang. We have stuff which is almost 14 billion years old and some other stuff that was created just a few billion years ago inside a massive red star. All of that is right now inside of you.
M: There are many different kinds of stars. Do all of these various types produce various elements? Do particular stars create specific elements?
T: If you consider the initial mass of the star, we know exactly how it will evolve and how much of each element it will produce. Things get interesting if you bring another star to the party. For example, a combination of a star like our sun and a white dwarf. In such case, the white dwarf has a very strong gravitational field, and it will start pulling material from the other star. At some point, after a limit is reached, there will be an explosion. It is called a classical nova. This happens quite frequently, almost ten per year in our galaxy. In case there is a combination of a sun-like star and a neutron star, we have the so-called x-ray bursts. Different stars create various elements.
M: What is the future of research in your field?
T: During the last fifteen years our area has started to accelerate. Right now, we are in an era where we are building new laboratories that can produce even more exotic nuclei than the ones we have right now. In five to ten years the construction of these large laboratories will be finished, and we will have much more access to this exotic matter.
M: How different is the cyclotron at your research center from CERN?
T: A cyclotron accelerates charged particles in a spiral orbit. Magnets accelerate an ion from a small radius by incrementally changing the magnetic field and expanding the orbit. With each increment, the energy of the particle grows until it reaches the particular level needed for the experiment. The CERN is a synchrotron, which is a different instrument. You don’t have a spiral movement, just a circular orbit. CERN does not only have the large hadron collider, but this machine is also connected to smaller ones that accelerate the proton before it enters the large chamber. It can reach huge amounts of energy, eight Teraelectron-volts or so. This would be almost six orders of magnitude higher (1 million) compared with what we need for our experiments.
The most anticipated instrument is being built right now in Michigan. It will be finished in a few years. Also, some of the older labs are currently upgrading.
M: What do you expect will be discovered?
T: That is the fun of it. You are expecting something new, but you do not know what it will be! For example, oddly, I would be happier if the Higgs boson wouldn’t be discovered. In that case, scientists would have to develop new theories. The standard model is cool but discovering the unexpected is always more fun. There are some issues with the standard model. For example, according to the theory, neutrinos do not have mass, but it was discovered that they actually do have a minimal mass. So there is something beyond the standard model, but that is an entirely different area of research. I am not involved in that, but I know it is pretty exciting.
M: What are your favorite science fiction movies?
T: Once I made a planetarium show about the science of Star Wars. The show was divided into six chapters with six different chapters of physics. There was exoplanets, aliens, robots and AI, space battles and light speed, the science of the Death Star, the concept of the Force and lightsabers.
M: What do you think about science fiction?
T: Science fiction is a way for art to get science across the public. You might not know about nuclear physics or astrophysics but you have watched Star Wars and Star Trek, and you think it is cool! One of the reasons I went into the science was that I was a huge fan of Star Wars and Carl Sagan. By doing something that is science fiction is an excellent way to get the message through and get people involved in what we do. My research is not really connected to the society. You will not use my research to create something that will make your life easier. It’s not like nuclear energy for example. However, this fundamental research is more important because it answers some questions about the origin of the universe and humans. It is more about deep questions that elevate your spirit. That is something we really need in this era. We are so consumed in the mechanistic way of thinking. We are very much into machines and how they work, and we have to be very exact. We should also think more abstract than that, to connect more with the universe. Right now we are not. The whole society is very individualistic and disconnected.
Fundamental research is essential for other, more "applied" types of science. Most of the other sciences, like biology or chemistry, are based on seventeenth-century physics. Newton, Leibnitz, and Descartes. All of these deterministic ideas were implemented in these sciences. However, it has been almost 100 years today that we know this is not the most exact way to describe nature. We are aware that nature has a different way to behave in the small-scale, quantum mechanics, and we know that in high speeds we have Einstein’s relativity. Things are not quite like the sixteenth, and seventeenth-century thinking prescribes. For four hundred years we have not changed our mind in that matter.
I am also really interested in quantum biology because they are studying principles of quantum mechanics implemented in biological systems.
M: You mentioned that hydrogen was created about three minutes after the Big Bang. How about the other elements?
T: Apart from the hydrogen created 14.6 billion years ago, and some of the Helium which was formed at about the same time, for all the other stuff we cannot really tell. We can have for example some giant red stars that created some of the carbon in our bodies, but these red stars might have been created four point six billion years ago or earlier. What we can tell with certainty right now is that all the other elements in our bodies were made at least four billion years ago because that’s when our solar system was created. So everything is four billion years old and older. We cannot tell when, but we can say in what environment. However, some elements can be created in more than one environment.
M: Can we tell what was their “address” they were created at?
T: We know that the heavy elements, meaning heavier than iron, are mostly synthesized in supernovae explosions. They determine the end of life of a star. For example gold. Carbon can be produced in many stars, including our Sun or heavier stars. Sun is fusing hydrogen into helium for another five billion years. After that, it will become a huge ball of helium, and its core will subtract because of gravity and then it will start to burn helium. Then helium will be burned into carbon. The sun at that time will become a red giant. The core will be very dense and small, but the atmosphere will keep expanding until it reaches very close to our planet. Some simulations suggest that it will even cover the earth.
M: In the history of our solar system, was there a lot of transfer of the elements from the outside of the solar system or was all the matter in one location, one cloud, that later formed into the system?
T: Many theories suggest that comets brought the first material into the younger earth and that started the life as we know it, but the whole thing is very complicated. I am sure there was some interaction between the newborn solar system and the outer region.
M: If there was a "detective" who wants to figure out where these elements came from, where should he or she start?
T: The best choice, in my opinion, would be first to investigate the large stars. There is a theory that the beginning of our solar system was caused by a nearby supernova explosion. This explosion made our interstellar medium to collapse into a protostar which later became our sun, and the other stuff, that surrounded the sun became our solar system.
M: What is a protostar?
T: It is an “embryo” star. It is not a real "hot star." Instead, it is a very dense cloud, mostly hydrogen. A protostar compresses because of gravity and heats up. When it reaches a critical temperature, around fifteen million degrees, hydrogen starts to fuse into helium. Beginning of nuclear fusion is the year zero, the birth of the star.
M: Have you ever heard about a Dyson sphere?
T: Yesterday there was a colloquium at our university with someone that spoke about how could we use climate in exoplanets to create a sustainable culture on Earth. Exoplanets are any planets that are not located in our solar system. He explained how by knowing the conditions on these exotic planets we could predict and create more sustainable future on Earth. In the end, he spoke about civilizations, and he mentioned the Dyson sphere as something that surrounds a star and harvests all the energy. On the level of technological development, this would be a type two civilization. That is quite sci-fi.
M: It is fascinating to think about the idea of a star as a factory.
T: I believe that we humans should not use the earth and the cosmos as means to fulfill our own ambitions. We should just remember that we are part of the universe. If you are part of something, you do not want to exploit it but rather live with it in collaboration. That said, I am against the idea of a Dyson sphere. I am more in favor of a way living sustainable life without creating too many problems for the planets, which we had already done on the Earth. We could have a very advanced civilization by not burning fossil fuels and other stuff that hurts the environment.
M: How in that case would we satisfy the ever-growing demand for very high energy experiments?
T: The official argument against the solar energy is that it is costly and we do not get much out of it yet. In the end, we end up paying more than we get so we use fossil fuels which are cheaper. Unfortunately, they are not sustainable, because they are finite, and after we run out of them our whole civilization is screwed, together with our environment.
M: What do you think will be the direction to go with energy production?
T: Solar energy at the moment is a very nice alternative, but I am really hoping for the day when the nuclear fusion will be a thing. That should happen in very close, foreseeable future. I hope I see some nuclear fusion before I die. hahaha
M: Do you think that the next energy source will arrive from the fusion area or some sort of quantum level physical reaction?
T: Atom level reactions do not create much energy, but nuclear fusion is a real thing, the cleanest type of energy you can get. It is what fuels stars.
M: Fundamental research answers key questions that elevate the spirit. Can you elaborate on that?
T: Fundamental research and philosophy are very close. In the past twenty or thirty years, the whole philosophy of science grew apart from science. Additionally, scientists do not really think about what are the philosophical implications of science. Two thousand years ago, when almost all we have now started, science and philosophy were not set apart. “Scientist” of that time started as philosophers. Later, in the 16th century with Galileo and others came the idea of an experiment. At some point, we lost the connection between philosophy and science. There was a very nice hike in the nineteen thirties when we had both quantum mechanics theory and the Einstein’s special relativity. We could pick up from there and continue, but there was the Second World War than we had the Cold War, so the conditions were not right for philosophical discussions. Neither they are now, but that’s a different topic. (Hahaha)
Anyways in what we do, we should not forget that science is very closely related to philosophy and our whole understanding of the universe. We are not engineers. We are just trying to understand what’s going on in the universe. I rather get answers to these fundamental questions than getting a financial reward for doing commercial science.
M: The connection between science and philosophy for you is in getting answers to the “bigger questions” of the existence of the universe.
T: All of this is connected. When you start asking when and how did the universe began, whether there are any other universes, or if we are the only intelligence in the universe, it is more philosophical. But these are actually also scientific questions that are being researched right now. I think we should reconnect those two because they are attempting to answer virtually the same thing.
M: Where do you exactly see the connecting points between the two?
T: We should remember that all the scientific inquiry we had in the past five hundred years is based solely on Descartes and Newton. They set the foundation of the modern science, but their ideas are outdated right now. We can use the Newtonian physics to describe interactions that we perceive in our ordinary “human” scale. When you look at tiny objects like atoms or if you get into very high speeds, like those in space, this type of physics doesn’t work. That is why we discovered quantum physics and special theory of relativity. These two theories contain particular philosophical background which had not been yet implemented in much of the science of the twentieth and the twenty-first century. We are mostly still based on that outdated "Newtonianism." That is why all the sciences that still use Newtonian physics to get their own philosophical inputs are founded in the sixteenth-century science and philosophy same as the Newtonian physics itself. And this is also true for the social and economic sciences. We know that this theory was scientifically proven wrong in some cases. Not in all cases. However, we have not yet implemented the quantum mechanics and special relativity in science that much, nor in our everyday lives.
M: Do you think special relativity and quantum mechanics will be one time connected or even unified?
T: It seems like quantum mechanics turns into classical physics when we have objects that are much larger than atoms. There is a threshold at that scale. Unification of these different aspects of physics is very difficult right now.
M: How important it is to have these different aspects unified?
T: It will be nice to have them unified. It is ok to have three distinct theories describing the physical world, but we all know that there is actually something larger than that concerning a theory that can describe everything. Scientists are still looking for that.
M: How would we connect to the universe? Should we use philosophy?
T: Not even that. We should just quiet our minds, and everything will make sense. We live in a world where we are constantly buzzed with everything around us, daily tasks, money, and we don’t just sit down, relax and think about ourselves, what we are doing, why we are here, and so on. The whole socioeconomic system we have is wrong. It’s one hundred percent bad for humans and nature. I think people just need to be connected to nature and the universe. After we relax our minds everything else will make sense and we will see the connection with the world.
M: I found one fascinating thing on your website. Were you working on a particle collider in Greece called Democritos? In the context of the fundamental questions in physics research, I found fascinating that there is actually a scientific machine named after Greek philosopher.
T: It’s the atomic theory of Democritus of Leucippus c.460-c.370 BC. Democritus is actually a massive research facility in Athens. They don’t only do nuclear physics but also biophysics and other stuff.
M: It is very poetic.
T: It’s fun to be greek and do nuclear physics. (hahaha)
M: Is there any more scientific facilities named after philosophers or instruments?
T: I am not sure, but I will look into that. Most names are acronyms. For example, right now I am working at TRIUMF which stands for Tri-University Meson Facility. Yea, this is a very intriguing question. I have to look into that! There might be some acronyms that correspond to names. Actually, In general, scientists are great in creating acronyms with meaning. (hahaha)
It’s been a month this residence program started. Boy, time sure flies! This week was very quiet for me and Matej, he was working on the interview - we might have it published by next week- and I was focused on my research and communicating with people with experience in planetarium show productions. We have decided on which software we will use, but we still need some time to figure out how we can incorporate my research data on the project. I am also very eager to see this interview published because it presents my perspective on my research and life in general.
On other news, this week I start again presenting planetarium shows for schools - I had a break for the summer, since I was in Vancouver for experiments. I consider public school shows, and any other outreach event that includes kids, a great opportunity to interact with them and convey my enthusiasm about what I do. Hopefully some of them might end up at my spot, and most of them will appreciate science in general.
It is remarkable that sometimes 6 graders can have clear, coherent thoughts about a science-related issue, even though they are not familiar with a subject. It amazes me every single time and makes me think that I need to be more detached and naïve on my approach every now and then.