17 Feb 2011

The Copenhagen Interpretation

The Niels Bohr Institute is a Physics institution part of the University of Copenhagen. Research spans Astronomy, Geophysics, Nanophysics, Particle Physics, Quantum Physics and Biophysics.

In December 2010 I went there to gain a broader understanding of how physics is taught at a university level. I quickly noticed my attention turning away from the actual physics and drawing towards the people who were there. I met the students and lecturers, conducted interviews and talked with various members of staff. I wanted to understand the way they felt about the subject they were studying, and how exciting it is to conduct research into the fundamental laws of nature. I got a mixture of apathy and insatiable enthusiasm.

Holger Bech Nielson! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOI8byIV_GI

I didn't understand a word, but he was thoroughly entertaining. There were two language barriers for me: Danish, and quantum physics.


Ice Cores! The ice featured is 100,000 years old excavated in the north of Greenland.


Absolutely my favourite part of the trip. The Single Bubble Sonoluminescence lab which is a more traditional physics lab. As apposed to computer simulations, this lab involves hands on experiments, and 'craftsmanship' according to the experimental  physicist who's been working on this particular area for 30 years.

Sound can be transformed into light. A sonoluminescing bubble is a small bubble in water trapped in a powerful sound field. The bubble expands as the sound pressure drops, and collapses as the sound pressure increases. The radius of the bubble drops from approx 70 um  to 0.7 um - a relative volume change of 10 to power of 6. This leads to adiabatic heating and as the bubble is smallest and hottest (~20000 K), a very short (~200 ps) flash of light is emitted. Light is emitted at the same frequency as the oscillating sound field. The physical mechanism responsible for light emission is still largely unknown.

It took us a while to find but eventually we saw the bubble. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen: One micron of light created with sound, water and temperatures hotter than a star!

"the physical mechanism responsible for light emission is still largely unknown" Exciting!

First year physics lab. The students were conducting an incline experiment. When in the physics lab I was asked to make a few diagrams for one of their experiment write-ups. It was a pleasurable exercise and the images got a good response when assessed. I think the actual phrasing of the critique was “bad ass.”

In Niels Bohrs' Auditorium. Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg and Meitner in the front row. During the lectures they would use a small trumpet and a cannon: for celebration and/or decimation of a lecture.

And finally, Bohrs' bath! 

A thousand thanks to Jophiel Wiis who made this all happen. An amazing host who is totally in love with physics.

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