welcome to the party


Greetings, salutations, and a raised glass of your beverage of choice! Welcome to Cocktail Party Physics — serving up physics with a twist since, well, today around 4:45 PM EST.

What is Cocktail Party Physics? It started out as a witty aside, when an interviewer asked me for a quick description of my first book, Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics. The book essentially mixes concepts in physics with art, literature, history, pop culture, and even the odd current event in 38 short essays — a format I dubbed "cocktail party physics," since it gives you a little bit of everything: it’s like tasty tidbits, or tapas, for the brain.

And that’s what I hope this blog will turn out to be: a collection of interesting ideas and observations culled from the latest science news — not served up as something scary and separate (as is often the case when it comes to physics), but as part of the natural order of things, a key component of the broader cultural context. "Cocktail party physics" is generally a perjorative term among scientists, inplying a lack of depth or substance to the discussion. I’m reclaiming it with a positive spin. Not every discussion about science needs to be an earnest, pedagogical event. There’s no reason why a bit of light and fun can’t be brought to bear on deep issues, especially when it comes to physics, easily among the most esoteric and intimidating of the scientific disciplines. Hence the origin and raison d’etre of the Black Bodies book.

It’s my belief that physics has been marginalized far too long, for any number of reasons, not least of which is the way it’s often presented to the non-scientific general public. It’s a vital, fascinating field, but many people would never know it, because too often, physics news is served up cold and colorless, in dry, jargon-filled prose. You won’t find that here (at least I hope not). My goal is to add spice, color, and the odd bon mot witticism or controversial opinion to the factual mix. Ultimately, it should be about a free exchange of ideas. Physics needs to reclaim its rightful place in the Grand Salon of Human Culture. Cocktail Party Physics is as good a place as any to start the reclamation process.

I’m new to blogging, so the menu offerings will be sparse at first: the odd post, a few lists and links, all presided over by the silent-yet-sophisticated Virtual Hostess, Jen-Luc Piquant. As things develop, I hope to add more fun features, including physics-themed recipes for drinks and funky finger food for physics-philes and -phobes alike. Comments, feedback, emails, in-depth discussions, and heated debates are welcomed, and even encouraged, in the spirit of good cocktail parties everywhere. Stay tuned!


7 thoughts on “welcome to the party”

  1. carlos schröder

    hi there. not a truly physics comment, but since you are listing cocktails, which one is your favorite physics’ drink? just curious.

  2. I found this via Cosmic Variance. Looks like I’ll have a new blog to keep up with.
    On your site I see you’re writing “Physics of the Buffyverse”, which has to be the coolest thing evar.

  3. sister and daughter of physics enthusiasts

    The physical world itself is very interesting as I learned from my family. And those interested in such things are not always”strange nerds.”
    But it’s more than prose.
    Please read this at aps.org for some insight into why, perhaps, ‘outsiders’ don’t latch onto physics:
    J. Murray Gibson, Argonne NL, in CSWP (Women’s) Gazette, Fall 2003 “Arrogance: A Dangerous Weapon of the Physics Trade.” AND, there is an ongoing discrimination complaint against the very organization that published this article.
    The problem lies in some “experts,” who can’t seem to be bothered to relate to or accept the “mere humans” or “their ways” around them. Just because you may be, or were, marginalized in so-called “nerdy” disciplines–perhaps as a child who “didn’t fit in”–there’s no excuse for not showing some interest in engaging people in some fashion as an adult, even if you are smarter than them.
    It goes both ways. I hope your lightness and humor can bring the ‘worlds’ together and away from stereotypes.

  4. I was disturbed enough by the last comment’s assertion about gender discrimination at the American Physical Society (of which CSWP is the women in physics committee) to check it out. The only threatened discrimination complaint, to the best of my knowledge, was not actually filed, and the woman’s firing had nothing to with her gender.
    Every organization has its issues, and I am certainly of the opinion that the APS, as well as the physics community at large, could do better in encouraging women (or minorities) to pursue physics as a career. But I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last ten years in that respect.
    Incidentally, the head of APS for the last 8 years or so is a woman physicist. During her tenure there have been two women elected as the Society’s president (back to back, no less), and there are currently more women on the Executive Board than at any other time in the Society’s history.
    In every other respect, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. Bridging the gap is a real challenge, but it’s become a necessity…

  5. i am curious and do not know who to ask:
    is it possible for something to travel faster than the speed of light? (or said another way, has it been proven theoretically that something can but we are left to theory because we reach our perceptual limits at the speed of light?)
    if so, is it possible for whatever “matter” moved that fast to reach such velocity that from our perspective it would move backward in time?
    if the latter, might the “matter” that moves at that speed and in that temporal direction be incapable of measurement (or even description beyond theory) simply because we have to measure things in a linear and forwardly temporal way (place an item on a scale, measure and read the results in the “future,” no matter how brief that later perception of the reading is — thus measurement an impossibility as this “matter” moves in a backward direction in time)
    might that phenomenum (in whatever form, whether capable of being recognized by us now as a form of measurable matter or not) be able to surround or overtake light, causing a reversal in the speed of light and in fact a reversal in direction temporally? i.e., somethinkg akin to a black hole?
    might it contribute to other non measurable phenomena — ESP (a sense or recognition of something past), or apparitions? (I swear I’m not a nut, I just lack training in this area and am curious)
    if so, might the medium be in the form of a quasi-spritual or psychic energy (not perciptible by us on any real level)?

  6. Hello there!!!
    I’m a Physics student here in Mexico. For many years I wanted to read something in internet related with Physics and was very difficult to find something until now. I found your blog. I thank you for writing this blog. I think its a great idea because, even for physics undergraduates, is difficult to understand many topics of physics. Actually I’m finishing my second term and find difficult to read more things about physics I haven’t studied before.

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