Saturday, November 25, 2017

New Topic in Frontiers: Women in Science!!!

From 'You, me and the dancing black holes' by Edward & David


Frontiers has launched a special topic to attract women in science to publish in its pages. 


The requirement is that either the lead author is a woman or the corresponding author. Articles that appear in this topic are free of charge. I am one of the editors and I wholeheartedly support the idea of promoting science done by women. In the academic community we lose talent too easily in both genders and lose opportunities for progress because of vast bureaucracy. I strongly believe we have reached a point where we cannot afford to let go of our best people if we want humanity to survive and continue to thrive. 

From 'You, me and the dancing black holes' by  Edward & David
Women are a minority in physics, chemistry, astronomy and computer science. I have witnessed physics at top institutions, and it is unfortunately still 'a boys club', where graduate students and postdocs are almost invisible even though they do most of the work and have preciously few rights. There is also no support for the families of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Little miracles have to happen in each individual case to make things work. My contract ended when I was eight month pregnant with my second son. As an immigrant, I could have chosen to extend my visa for three months to look for other work -- while 8 months pregnant -- and pay the living costs for myself and three children (I also have a foster son) from my savings or move back with my parents. I chose the latter. My advisor/department said that they cannot cover maternity for a contract that would have ended on that date anyhow. When I contacted Human Resources (HR), I have been told that they might have been able to work something out for my case if I had contacted them at an earlier stage, but that departments are under no obligations to report the pregnancies of their employees to HR. I was the second unreported pregnancy in my office and the first woman to use that office space. 

Most of my colleagues who have children and PhDs have stories that are hard to hear.  The Frontiers topic is, however, not focusing on hardships, but aims to celebrate the work done by talented scientists who happen to be women and are leaders in their field or are likely to become leaders in the years to come.

Why I enjoy publishing in Frontiers?

1) It's a more modern journal that opens an interactive forum with the referees, which is less intimidating and more prone towards constructive communication. After the review process the name of the referees are made public unless explicitly requested otherwise.

2) Its rules include that articles can only be rejected based on scientific arguments and not on personal opinions of the form 'this paper is not interesting enough. so, I reject it or I let you as an editor do as you please' (and no this is not made up. I've seen referee responses of this form. They also do not bother to use capital letters.)

3) Frontiers has a presence in social media, which targets a younger audience that uses social media effectively.

4) Frontiers counts the impact of each paper more thoroughly -- they go beyond the number of citations. You can see the number of views, social buzz, and the demographics of your audience.

And the only down side is ...
It is generally not free publish in frontiers. Note that it is free to publish as part of this topic and also that many journals cost money including Physical Review Letters and the Astrophysical Journal. I have been lucky enough to be supported by universities that pay these fees.

My last two technical articles are in Frontiers:

1. Explicit equations for a self-gravitating stellar collapse (note that all three authors are women and that this is my most mathematical paper to date). See my blog post on stellar collapse and time travel.

2.  general relativity as a tool to measure planetary spin in space-craft timing signals. See the planetary spin blog post on this paper to learn that planets spin faster than black holes.

Note: I opted to use my children's drawings to illustrate this post because it's what I have. Edward drew these women/girls with excitement that is visible on their faces. It's how scientists are. The words are allegoric. Women do shake the fields they are in (of course, we all shake the space-time when we dance), and some of their energy is sucked by the hardships faced, which are amplified by the gender gap. Marie Curie is the most famous example of a woman scientist, but there are so many other talented women out-there who shine today. I hope to see some of them publish in this topic in Frontiers.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A belated introduction of Mrs. Edwina Cleverbrain, Mrs. Davina Cleverbrain and Ms. Jemsina Cleverbrain

From left to right: Snow, Lady David, Edward, and Lady Edward
This summer we spent the equivalent of $80 on ... goats. Mihai purchased them at my request from the village of Tormac. Their family had gone to work in Italy and was dismantling their farm. So, In June 2017, Snow White (the Lady James or Jemsina Cleverbrain), Snow White Five Years later (the mother of Snow White; also known the Fairest of them all or as the Lady David, Mrs. Devina Cleverbrain), and the genius goat (the Lady Edward or Ms. Edwina Cleverbrain) have joined our family.

Lady Edward and Lady David are like most mothers: friendly, highly intelligent and provide the best milk I have ever tasted. David milks them twice (and sometimes three times) a day. They are too amazing for words -- when one considers my writing ability. They are, however, described in almost every sentence Edward writes for his homework. 

My phone's collage of Edward (at a petting zoo & this summer)
Andy is not too happy with our naming scheme or with my latest acquisition. He said that he will leave me and never return if I buy a cow. This summer he spent his time helping the children milk the goats -- during and in-between gravitational wave detections -- AND claiming not to remember which one is Lady Edward and which one is Lady David (He also does not know whether he/LIGO is seeing black holes or boson stars; nobody knows that yet for sure.) His job was to hold the goats still, but before running to catch them he always asked us to tell him the colour of the goat he was after. Their colours are really very plain. One is white and the other is grey. In his school writing Edward  refers to his goat as 'Edward -- the goat' or 'Goat Edward'.  He mostly has to write in German and told me 'Frau Edward' would sound too strange for school, and I solemnly agreed.

The Genius Goat can open knots with her mouth and use a fork. She was observed to steal David's cup with left-over rice pudding, which had extra sugar and cacao in it. She put it gently on a a box, and started to take stuff out of the cup with David's fork. The door did not close well and to prevent the goats from coming inside and eating the grain (or sitting on my bed) we tied it with a knot. After I closed the gate as I was driving out with the children, we saw Lady Edward climb on her hind legs and gently open the knot with her mouth. Lady David is bigger, and very strong. She mostly pushes stuff with her head. Snow White climbs everywhere -- it's because she is the lightest. She can even climb on the car.

Edward turned seven this summer. David is ten, and little James just turned one. I stopped writing dedicated birthday posts. The children and our animals take so much care that I have not had the energy to write much before today, but tonight I could not sleep.  So, today after re-lighting the fire, I felt the need to write and not for useful, precise, science writing. I should, however, try to get some sleep to have the strength to wake up soon enough to take on the new day with school, animals and a one-year old AND people coming to install central heating (this time it's gas based). I promise to write more later ... after I do some work on boson stars and take some better pictures of David and his goat/the goats. I will first re-check the fire.

Update: The goats have new names so that they can enrol in school if they desire to or so Edward says. He also said his goat seemed so familiar when he first saw her at the farm because he had known  her from a previous life. She was his sister then and they immediately recognized each other. In the previous weeks he had thought he was a tortoise who lived very long and was too heavy to be taken and eaten by humans, but he is now certain he was a goat.

The former Lady Edward is now Mrs. Edwina Cleverbrain, the former Lady David is Mrs. Davina Cleverbrain, and the former Lady James is Ms. Jemsina Cleverbrain. I asked what grade they would be in, and he said they cannot be confined in a grade and they ought to be free to roam the whole school area. I can talk to the principal about enrolling them, but then I'd have to be responsible for taking more beings to school and it would get even harder to get everyone ready in the morning. I have, however, updated this post accordingly. I hope it is not too confusing. Those of you who find the naming scheme confusing would I am sure sympathize with Andy --- and perhaps prefer to seeing the ladies unglamourously referred to as 'the grey goat' and 'the white goat'.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Measuring Planetary Spin from Spacecraft Timing

Exploring spacetime with general relativity


The trajectory of NASA's Juno Mission
General relativity is slowly becoming a tool that teaches us about the objects that curve spacetime instead of a hindrance to be corrected for. Planets are heavy and bend the fabric of spacetime affecting the orbits of satellites that go around them and the paths of light sent. Knowing very precisely when the light arrived, and when it was sent is part of space-craft timing. For Juno and Cassini this timing is already sensitive to higher order general relativistic effects like frame dragging. In the future, such measurements could be used to determine the spin of planets to within a percent, which can tell us about their interior. For missions in eccentric orbits relativistic effects are kick-like and can only be observed when the satellite is within a few hours of its pericentre.  We argue that instead of performing cumulative frame dragging measurements over many orbits as was done for Earth, high eccentricity missions like Juno and Cassini need the specific time dependence of each relativistic effect to aid in recovery.

A few words about gravity...

Bent spacetime affecting the orbit of a satellite & the light it sends
General relativity is the theory of gravitation. It says we live in four dimensions -- 3 spatial and 1 temporal -- and that space and time are connected. Gravitation itself is a consequence of the curvature of the spacetime. A planet is heavy and curves the spacetime around it causing it to seem like it pulls objects towards/around it.  This is gravity.

Redshift contribution from frame dragging for Juno. Zoom in.
Looking at relativistic effects
Missions like Juno and Cassini present new possibilities for measuring relativistic effects around the giant planets in our solar system. Relativistic effects are amplified if the orbit of the satellite is eccentric because the spacecraft moves faster and the satellite passes by the planet very closely where the gravitational field is stronger.  This coupled to the larger size of the planet causes frame dragging accelerations that are a few hundred times larger than those near Earth. Since the effects are larger, they might be easier to detect than around Earth.

Most planets have higher spins than black holes. The angular momentum per unit mass for black holes is less than 1, whereas for planets it can be of order hundreds. Earth has a spin on about 800 while Saturn's is about 1000. Precise frame dragging measurements can constrain planetary spin providing an independent estimate of the internal structure of the planet. This structure is relatively uncertain for the gas giants, which are believed to have an internal core of unknown size that rotates at a different rate than the surface.

 We simulate the trajectory of a satellite in a curved spacetime and find the path of the light it sends to receiving stations on Earth. Both follow 'straight lines' in their spacetime also called geodesics. The dynamics of a satellite orbiting a planet can largely be described by Newtonian physics with general relativity providing only small contributions.  The equations of motion are expanded in velocity orders to separate Newtonian and relativistic effects.

The biggest general relativistic effect is time dilation. GPS satellites are sensitive to time dilation and correct for it -- if they would not, the GPS would be off by about 10 km every day. Moving clocks tick slower than stationary clocks. So do clocks in a gravitational field. The ground station has its own time dilation and the difference between its tick signals and those arriving from the satellite are known as the redshift. We compute this redshift for satellites around Earth (Galileo and a proposed mission in an eccentric orbit) and for eccentric orbits around Jupiter (Juno) and Saturn (Cassini). Galileo satellites and the Atomic Clock Ensemble in space -- an ensemble of two atomic clocks that will be placed on the International space station in 2018 -- provide an even better measurements of time dilation, which tests the equivalence principle.

We are interested in higher order relativistic effects like frame dragging in which a spinning mass drags the spacetime in its vicinity affecting any orbiting satellite. The orbital plane of the satellite precesses about the spin axis of the planet. Historically, this effect was first predicted by in 1918 by Einstein, Lense and Thirring. They studied Amalthea, the third moon of Jupiter, and found that it precesses by 1'53'' per century.

Existent Measurements of frame dragging 
Orbital perturbations due to frame dragging have been measured using laser ranging by LARES and LAGEOS. Gravity Probe B measured the effects of frame dragging on the orientation of onboard gyroscopes. The effect is typically averaged over multiple orbits. It is then buried in much larger non-relativistic precession making it very hard to identify the relativistic contribution. E.g., Mercury's observed precession is mostly due to Newtonian planetary perturbations with the relativistic contribution being only about 7% of the total.

Relativistic effects for the Juno orbiter
Instead of averaging we compute each higher order relativistic effect as a function of time and find that they alter the orbit in a kick-like manner at the pericentre. For Juno the kick due to frame dragging could be measured for about two hours. We argue that technology has advanced enough so that we might be able to filter out these effects if we knew their specific time dependence.



This post summarizes results of:

Andreas Schaerer, Ruxandra Bondarescu, Prasenjit Saha, Raymond Angelil,  Ravit Helled and Philippe Jetzer, "Prospects for measuring Planetary Spin and Frame dragging in Spacecraft Timing Signals", Frontiers in Astronomy 4, 11 (2017).

Please read our article for more details.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

Observing gravitational waves AND light from the same source

artist conception
It's been so exciting to see, hear and read through the physics news in the past week that I have not had time to write! More gravitational waves have been detected and this time telescopes have seen light emitted from what's believed to be the closest observed merger of compact objects to date. The collision happened 130 million years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, in a galaxy from the Hydra constellation. LIGO has seen gravitational waves from this inspiral on August 17, 2017.  The event was made public on October 16 together with a suite of technical articles.

Edward and his goats
Those of you who know us might guess Andy has been pretty stressed out this summer, but also excited and proud. I was mostly in charge of the children, house repairs and the many animals we have acquired -- taking time off now-and-then to prepare a talk and a fellowship application. Our son, Edward, had a gravitational wave appear on his birthday (the binary black hole also seen by VIRGO) and the neutron star merger 3-days later. So, a picture of Edward next to that of the gravitational waves is somewhat appropriate. His 3-goats also sneaked in the picture. The announcement happened while we were celebrating Edward Seidel's 60th birthday.

What happened on August 17, 2017? The first light from this event was picked up by Fermi's Gamma Ray Burst monitor. Independently, LIGO Hanford saw the event, LIGO Virgo saw nothing, LIGO Livingston saw a huge glitch, which meant data would have been removed around it if there had been no event. The Hanford detector triggered. When the trigger was checked, they saw that Fermi has seen gamma rays some two seconds after LIGO saw the merger of the neutron stars.  Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light towards Earth to shake LIGO's mirrors, while light moves slower through air than vacuum (and is delayed when passing near massive objects), which makes it travel a bit slower. The short time delay meant it could be from the same event, but they had to find its location to be sure.

The waveform was long with the highest signal to noise ratio observed to date. It looked like the first neutron star - neutron star collision or the first neutron star - black hole collision was observed. The strength of the signal meant the colliding stars were close to Earth. So, it was important to get the localization as accurate as possible and look for other kinds of light with all telescopes that could see it.

After running a code developed by Andrew Lundgren at the LVC meeting in 2010 to remove huge  glitches, they uncovered the signal in LiIGO Livingston. The fact that Virgo saw nothing meant the event was near one of its blind spots.  It took four more hours of work to obtain sky localization. When the location was out it was not night in Chile yet, and so scientist spent time planning observations. 

Telescopes might have ignored  the event altogether if LIGO had not seen it because the burst of radiation from the colliding neutron stars was off-axis, i.e., it was not pointed towards Earth. This is why this very close collision was not bight in Gamma rays. It may be that we have missed other sources like this before. Yet only when gravitational wave observatories run for longer we'll be able to tell.

Days later Chandra saw X-rays at this sky location, and telescopes are still observing radio waves. So, stayed tuned for more!!! It will also take time to analyze and understand the data.

The US LIGO detectors are upgrading. If they succeed in reaching design sensitivity, they could see up to an event a week in a year or so. The down side is that we'll miss detections in this period. I wish they could let one detector running in the US and LIGO Virgo, while upgrading the other.

All gravitational waves signals seen to date (LIGO collaboration)
Where was Andy when the universe burped emitting gravitational waves? We were celebrating Edward's seventh birthday belatedly. So, Andy was in Chizatau - in Transylvania. He was watching his computer screen while cooking in our lightless kitchen. This kitchen has no window, but we can leave the door open for light. If the door is open, we can hear noise from the main road (lots of trucks) and the goats. So, the lightless state is at times preferred. I took the children swimming to let him work and cook. When we returned, he was very animated. Nothing was burning in the kitchen. So, while I knew he was not allowed to tell me until the official announcement, I thought this must have been the first gravitational wave LIGO has seen while we were in Chizatau.  We've seen gravitational waves from a black hole binary on August 14, but black holes are...well... black... and this time the universe thought we needed light!  

To remember: Let your children dream! Today one can observe the universe while cooking in Transylvania, and lead/work with a multi-national collaboration after-and-before goat milking! (Many thanks to LouAnne Lundgren for pointing this out).

Note:  The LIGO collaboration has about 1000 people -- many of whom I am proud to call my friends. Work was done in collaboration with observers and with theorists (more friends and people I respect) for this event. I don't mean to take credit or discredit work done by others. This is simply meant to be a fun personal post.

Monday, July 17, 2017

I married a professor after all...


Andy & Andy-Chick
less serious
 Andy received a reader position at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation from the University of Portsmouth. He is joining the institute in October. Needless to say: I am very proud of him! This is the equivalent of an associate professor position in the US. It means he will build his own research group and that the position is permanent. Furthermore, if all is well, it is expected that he will be promoted to full professor in a few years. 

While we do have two children together, Andy and I are not actually married. A marriage certificate would have made our already multi-national lifestyle even harder to deal with. Certificates need to be apostilated according to the Hague convention and presented when dealing with real estate issues and with children. The apostile is only valid for a limited period of time. It is easier to simply not be married. Then one can just present their ID. However, given that we  have a family together, the relationship is somewhat equivalent and title seemed catchy.

me, Electron & Positron
As I write this I am surrounded by Electron and Positron. James also just woke up. So, I have to conclude this post to help him use the potty. He is only 8 months old and doing a reasonable job of being diaper-free.

Will Andy's position suddenly brighten my career prospects? No. I am receiving a visiting position that is unpaid and the support to apply to fellowships if/when I find the time.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Scientists Changing the World

A gravitational wave (by David)

This is the Breakthrough Prize medal. Andy says it looks very much like David's drawings of gravitational waves. I attach some pictures of both. I leave you -- dear readers -- to judge.

David is a bit older now, but just as interested in science. Today he used solar power to separate the Hydrogen and Oxygen from water through electrolysis. He kept repeating the experiment until he collected some of the gas bubbles in a syringe. Then he tried blowing them up. He is fascinated by blowing things up. But unlike the US president, he is 10 and he only blows up bubbles, and so we are safe near David for now. 

When gravitational waves were discovered, David (still 8 years old at the time) and Edward (5 years old) were so excited that they insisted in writing a book for children on the subject. The children, Mihai and I worked on the book for weeks. They made all the drawings for it, and it ended up being a collection of dancing black holes, dancing children and happy fruits. See side-bar for the amazon link.
Colliding black holes (by David)

Andy was the second person to see the first gravitational wave that was detected, and when he realized it was real he tried his best to help lead the collaboration through the right steps in checking the data and the physics inferred. The wave arrived in his first day at work as Detector Characterization Chair. The detector was not even considered in science mode. As Andy put it in the first seminar in Switzerland on the subject: "the detector was ready, but the people were not" (I organized the seminar in Zurich).  The almost-perfect match to numerical relativity data was a surprise to all concerned.

In 2016 David wrote about gravitational waves in his school diary. At the end of the school year, Andy took pictures of David's writings and when the medal arrived, he gave the medal and the pin that came with it to the children. Andy explained that they deserved it because they asked many relevant questions on the topic and because they worked hard to increase the outreach of the science.

Edward, Andy and David in Tenerife
The money from the prize was used to partially fund a trip to Tenerife (the biggest Canary Island) and to build a fence in the back yard that keeps the children and the dog safe*. 

I still sometimes wonder if the science we do has value. I worry that we end up working on very specific topics that reach a very small community. This medal helps me realize that what we do (sometimes) matters. The whole world stopped to listed to the waves in the fabric of space-time. This was a year and two months ago.
Louisiana 2002

Mihai and Mario near LIGO 
with gravitational waves posters (I wear red)
My interest in gravitational waves started in college. In my first year of graduate school, Mihai and I were visiting LSU (Louisiana State University) to organize its first course on gravitational waves. It was the winter of 2003. This course was requested by students working within LIGO who wanted to understand its science better. We used Kip Thorne's web-based lectures and homework, which Mihai had convinced Kip to make to "benefit the whole world not just Caltech" (they are available on youtube today). He and Yanbei Chen were co-authors of the lecture series. One of the LIGO detectors is in Louisiana within driving distance of LSU. We saw the mirrors locking and the detector stable and in science mode. I remember discussing how imminent a detection was. We had students coming to learn more about the waves during Christmas and New Year's Eve. Everyone was just so excited, but then not much happened besides work for a long, long time.

Dave, me and Andy
In 2007, Andy, David Tsang, Mihai and I finished our first paper that modified the design of Advanced LIGO's mirrors to lower its dominant form of noise where it was most sensitive. Advanced LIGO still has to reach the sensitivity we were aiming to improve. After we finished our paper, a rainbow appeared. So, Dave, Andy and I climbed on top of the Space Sciences Building where our office was. A colleague took a picture. None of us jumped. This was our last year of graduate school. I was wearing color coordinated clothes and I was still combing my hair. That same year Andy and I applied for jobs. He received a position at Syracuse University, while I went to Penn State. There he spent a lot of time understanding how LIGO worked, and then when Edward was born, he moved to Penn State to be with us. At Penn State, he mapped a 3D space to 2D to allow LIGO to finally search for spinning black holes. Together with colleagues, he wrote the spinning template bank, which is now used by LIGO.

Gravitational waves were detected in our life-time - some 13 years later after I first visited the detector. Experiments often progress more slowly than people's lives. From 'our 2003 students', Ravi  Kopparapu is working at NASA searching for planets. His work on habitability is known world-wide. His wife who was pregnant at the time is still at his side. They have two amazing children. I have not kept in touch with the others. While most have quit the field, each must have a full life of their own.  Ray Wise began thinking about gravitational waves tens of years before us and so I have little cause of complaint, but I still feel I have witnessed part of history.

* Additional funds were needed to finish both projects. Tenerife was cold, but that's because we chose to go there in February - a year after the discovery of the waves was announced. A neighbor threatened to sue us over the fence because it's not straight enough. I wrote him about the medal. No court case has been opened to date. The medal is made of metal, and could be used to bang somebody on the head if the need arises, but then I would be sued for bodily harm. I point out I have no history of aggression.

Hristos a inviat! Happy Easter!


me and James
Edward w. baby Silkie
It's Easter and throughout the house children, a Silky chicken, a cat, tortoises, baby chicks and Terrapins are all moving about.  We wish you all dear readers a very happy Easter and a lovely spring and summer after that. Hristos a inviat! 

You might be wondering how has my family increased. It's a multi-part story. My friends assume I have a very quiet life. But at any given time, a person or animal needs something. It's much fuller than life in the office. It involves making people and animals happy or unhappy --  at times. They keep me very busy, but also play a role in keeping me sane while being on unpaid leave and with my father to take care of. My mother does more than I could ever repay. She has always been the one to help us most. 

Each member of our menagerie has a story of its own. 

Silky
Negruzi & The other girls
Why do we have Silky? We have been writing and illustrating a book about chickens and dinosaurs when we came across a furry looking chicken. The children wanted one just like that to inspire their drawings for our book. I made a phone call and ordered a Silky chicken and some Silky eggs.

Silky arrived by post. We received a frantic call from post-office personnel asking us to pick up the hen. My mom went to the post office and asked where's the chicken. People were mesmerized by the question. It seems few chose mail as their form of chicken-delivery. It took some time to locate Silky, but they both arrived home safely.

Silky is fluffy like a baby chick, gets very wet when it rains and cannot fly. The Silkies come from Asia. They have long been part of history: Marco Polo wrote about the 'furry chicken' in his 13th century travels. They are more friendly than other chicken. Every evening Silkie climbs on my feet, on my mom's feet or Andy's. That means she is ready for bed. She sleeps on the table in the living room in a box because it's still quite cold outside.

What about the other hens? Most of our other hens were rescued from a factory farm. They were acquired on the way from school when we saw a person toss hens out of his car like sacks of potatoes. The children asked him how much they cost, and we simply had to buy some. We have three chicken that are not rescues. One is a present from a family friend, and two chicken were my reward last year for paying for a genetic test. I had a friend who was pregnant and was told her baby is likely to have Down syndrome. The child is healthy and it made her pregnancy more relaxed to know that ahead of time.

the baby chicks
with Spike
The baby chicks.  We have lots of eggs, and so we also had to get an incubator. We now have 24 baby chicks. Not all have names. Spike jumps out of the box first thing in the morning. Star was the first to come out of his egg. The David-chick's shell was opened by David a day early. He did not look quite done and so we put him back in the incubator for another day in a plastic foil. He is in good shape now, but David worries he is a hen and so the naming scheme might have to be changed in the future. Then there are the six silky chicks. They are white, black, and wild-piglet like.

The tortoises (Kiki and Piki) and Terrapins (Otto and Fifi) were the children's reward for finishing their first two books and becoming published authors.
Rainbow -- the cat

The cat just showed up. She wears a bell and a collar of the same color as her eyes. She is very friendly, and also appears to be heavily pregnant. Her black and white coloring is similar to that of Coditza, our dog. Perhaps she thought that they belonged together. He receives meat to eat, and so does the cat now. They both refuse the appropriate pet food. Andy calls her "Rainbow" because white light has the full spectrum of colored light in it, and black just absorbs everything.  Rainbow must belong to a neighbor - although the ones I have asked do not know her. She caught a rat today, and ate it in front of us. Part of its skull and tail is still in the yard. The ants are eating what remained. I worry about Rainbow's safety now. What if the rats are poisoned?

Easter eggs
Edward, David and Andy painted eggs with water-colors this year. There is the Robot egg, the Jupiter egg and a few of more standard coloring. The Jupiter egg is the favorite - although it's not the toughest of all. I will soon have a post about my technical paper on Jupiter. It should be submitted this week, and once it's accepted I will write about it. In the meantime -- below is Jupiter the egg.

Jupiter -- the egg
Finishing this post late reminds me of my religion teacher from middle school who used "Hristos a inviat" instead of hello many months after Easter. He had white hair and seemed so very old to me (he was likely in his late 40s or early 50s). I remember it was summer. School was long over when I met him on the street. He started the conversation with "Hristos a inviat", and then explained that everyone should be rejoicing not just during Easter, but for much longer. 


When I walk past the Timis river and see all the lambs brought for slaughter to celebrate Easter, I cringe. My mother reminds me that fewer people go hungry now than when she was young, and that this is because of industry and agriculture -- it's now possible to feed everyone. I suppose it's fair to see a tiny piece of the price paid from time to time. The killing of lambs does not happen in the open in the US or the fancier parts of Europe. But it's interesting to watch how we can so easily turn off compassion. When seeing the lambs, I think of the various countries in the world where there is war and wonder if there will ever be a time when we'll be truly kind and grateful for what we have -- perhaps when there will be less left to destroy.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wall Painting

David explaining biology to James 
 
It was a long process

In a dark, cold winter day, my children decided to paint the walls in my room.  Before I was only surrounded by boxes of tortoises and terrapins and visited by chickens and rabbits. Now there are also inanimate versions of them on the walls. I admit they make the room more cheerful. Elements of astrophysics sneak in: my six year old drew a black hole and a galaxy, and David (age 9) drew the LISA mission. The laser was unfortunately leaking as were other colors.

Edward's painting were mostly inspired by our animals, while David was inspired by his biology book. He says he hates biology, but has to study it for school. He does understand it. His biology textbook - like most textbooks - is very dense with too many names for plant parts and processes and too little logic. 

Wall 2

And it's done!
Wall 1
The ideas were first discussed with two-months old James (see above). He babbled in his own language and appeared to pay serious attention to each suggestion. James can already sustain long conversations with sounds that sound almost like words, and likes being held all day long.  

Edward drew tortoises, a dog, several chicken, some flowers and insects, and what he says is a blue submarine. David drew a yellow submarine, a snail, a boat, sections of flowers and pores in leaves that open at night and close when the sun is too hot. James was surprisingly quiet during the whole process.

The results are briefly described below. Wall 1a (by David unless otherwise noted):  section of a flower with pollen and seeds, giant tortoise (by Edward), pores of leaves that close when the sun is up and open when it's cool, another flower section, the LISA mission. Wall 1b (by David): a snail, a boat, an yellow submarine. Wall 1b (by Edward): galaxy (the green spiral with blue dots for stars), a yellow version of Urechila (our white bunny), a darker version of El Dogo (also known as Codita) and a flower with its seeds. Wall 2 (by Edward): flowers with insects (bee and butterflies), a nearsighted tortoise and a nearsighted Petunia, who looks more like a duck than a chicken. Wall 3 (by Edward): floating turtle, a black version of Pufi - the white chicken, Negruzi - our rooster, a black hole with stuff spiraling into it, and a tortoise eating a flower. The blue submarine is hiding under the window sill.

Wall 3: the black spiral is a black hole
Submarine 
A few years ago we were standing in an elevator with some visitors, and Andy wondered at how things happened in our family in a disappointed voice. He concluded that first the one year old is asked where we should go and what we should do next, then the four year old is consulted and lastly a decision is taken by the adults that focuses on pleasing both children. The trend continues to today. Now,  they are six and nine, and still very stubborn. When my mother goes to the store to buy building supplies and asks the six year old for his opinion, the clerk stares.

Edward and his model
I often wonder if I am right with most of what I do. We'll have to wait until they are grown and perhaps beyond that to be certain. So far my mother, Andy and I are very proud of them, and will always love them very much. I am less patient and more nervous that I should be, and make plenty of mistakes, but for now they are perfect.

Wall 1 (closer): green spiral = galaxy
I often wish I could have some order in my life. But then perhaps that's the wrong thing to wish for. Order brings a certain kind of death. Perfectly aligned, weedless flower beds may be beautiful, but they are almost dead if you count the number of insects and animals they house.

The authors
My house and walls are full of animals and the doors at the entrance of the attic and basement are bright red. The colors for the other doors has been chosen to be bright blue. They will be painted as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

My house is a mess. However, there is always some light at the end of the tunnel - even if it sometimes takes the shape of a rooster that crows several times a night (and in the daytime). I admire Negruzi for his patience. He stayed still for over half an hour while Edward painted him. When I asked Edward if he wanted a childhood like that of Gerry Durrell, he answered "no, 'cause mine is better. " He then started drawing and planning on what he will do, build, get next. He stopped half an hour later. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016, welcome 2017!


My family has grown in many ways this year. I am sharing the room with two tortoises, two Terrapins and my second baby.

My father agreed to move back in with us for the winter, and in addition to him, we have two rabbits (Tzup-Tzup and Urechila), Coditza - the dog, and 15 chickens.
Coditza and the hens
Edward + chickens
The chickens are Negruzi, Pufi, Petunia and the 12 apostles - altogether named the chicken army or Andy's chicken army or the army of animals most similar to the T-rex. In addition to the leadership of LIGO's detector characterization group (joint with David Shoemaker), Andy jokes he is general of the chicken army and that he often enjoys the latter role more.

Scientifically,  the year was awesome! We celebrated LIGO's first detection: first proof that black holes of tens of solar masses exist and that we can see see them through their gravitational wave emission! We can see waves in the fabric of spacetime AND the waves looked exactly as predicted by numerical relativity! Then there was the successful launch of the LISA pathfinder where the data defeated all expectations by about two orders of magnitude.

some of us this winter
our tree: to be replanted soon
I will always remember this year for the birth of James in November. Otherwise, on the human scale, it has been sad and strange: (1) the war in Syria was even more lethal than before, (2) many beloved celebrities passed away, (3) there was a new terrorist attack/mass shooting almost every week, and (4) America elected Donald Trump for president. This year brought uncertainty.  We watched the greatest country in the world elect a president known for contradicting himself many times a day, for being hateful and seemingly insane. This means there is something very wrong in the way our world is structured, in who we promote, and in what we deem important. We worry more about the future now and we are justified to worry. We should have the courage to rethink most of what we do and what we rely on.
Bending rules in school with Edward and David
after the first oral exam
logs in the forest
Edward started this year in kindergarten. He is now in second grade. David was in third grade in the beginning of 2016, and is now in 5th grade. Almost all children who come from abroad lose a year.  Few are luckier and stay in the same grade. Instead, we've been through many commissions and exams - both in Switzerland and Romania - and gained two years for Edward and one for David.

We still have a number of evaluations to go through. Many say I am wrong to push them forward. One common argument is that they are losing their childhood. I do not equate school with being a kid. I equate it with sitting down and doing what you are told for half a day in most parts of the year. If they can learn to bend rules early, perhaps they'll have more courage to try to change the system and shape the world when they are older.

part of Europe's first underwater museum
riding camels
I try to make up for encouraging them to take on challenges by allowing them to have pets, by taking vacations, and by not sending them to after school or other similar programs. They are mostly outside when they are home. They also do not own tablets or computers. We have never owned a TV. Edward (at 6) is interested in animals and in renovating the house. David will be 10 next month. He likes chopping wood, making fire and playing with electronics. They both still play with remote controlled toys: boats, cars,  drones, cameras and helicopters. 

First year unemployed
Before Romania: dreaming of chickens
This is the first year since 2001 in which I am officially unemployed. I was 18 when I started working full time. It was the summer of 2001.  I am 34 now. It would have been nice to have maternity leave, but the grant I was on did not come with such provisions and my contract was due to end the month before I had my son. While I was told I could have gotten an extension for a professor job elsewhere for continuity's sake, nobody offered me such an extension for maternity leave.

first day of kindergarten
in a castle in Lazarote
 I could have placed my baby in day care or with my mother (again) and gotten a job in industry. I decided against that. It was partly because I love James and I did not want to go through prolonged separations again. Also, after meeting with a number of evaluators through the Swiss school system, they decided that if I stay, they will keep Edward for another year in kindergarten. He was getting awfully bored there, and besides learning the language there was little benefit. He was not interested in the type of books they read or in their songs or discussions. Surprisingly, in Romania, they were open minded and agreed to place him in second grade for a trial period.  I could have also gone back to the US, but it would have meant leaving my parents behind yet again, and they need me now. So, we came back to Romania.

another castle
tree climbing
Does being unemployed make me feel free? do I have more time? No, I seem to have less time than before.  When I don't breast feed, do homework, change diapers, hold the baby, fix or pay people for fixing things around the house or try to keep track of what the children are doing, I sleep or eat and try to remember to drink water to have milk for the baby.  I feel as if I spend most of my time running in circles. I forget so much more than before and I don't notice everything I should. I also try to do some science from time to time. Overall, it's easier to be at work than to be a full-time mom, but at times the latter is much more rewarding.

Do I want to be unemployed?
Carrying a hen around
at the beach
I want to spend time with my children, and I am fortunate to be able to do so without worrying over money for food.  However, it would have been nice to have had some kind of maternity leave. I have bent rules before, but I've mostly managed to bend them to allow me to work more or for free. I understand it's meant to be this way in science and, in general, for immigrants. I did not have to be an immigrant. So, I came back "home".
 The first snow
pe malul Timisului
It snowed for Christmas, and Edward and David were so happy and excited. I could not find a particle of excitement in my soul. All I could think was that it will be dangerous to drive or even walk outside - especially for my parents. I remember a time when I was sitting at the same window many years ago. I loudly mentioned then how I could not understand people (e.g., my mother) who could not find joy in the first snow of the year. I was perhaps a year or two older than David is now. I finally understand her.

 in the Alps
with grandma in Lanzarote
My mother is still the person who makes everyone happy:  the animals, the children, the fire and my father. She is 70 this year. I wonder if I'll ever be able to do for my children as much as she's done for all of us. 


What next?
Edward's first chickens
I promise to try to be more sensitive to beauty and in particular to the beauty of my children's minds and souls. I remember when they don't do their homework or when they have not worked through extra problems. They never do it on their own. They also never clean their room unless I stay there watching. Even then it does not work well; our house is a mess. But, in spite of this, I will try to see more of the bigger picture as we do things together.
Edward - the pirate

David pointed out the other day that in 4 or 5 years he'll be gone. It might 7 instead of 4, but it will still be soon. Edward was telling me that he won't care what I do when he'll be 20 if I'll live till then. While they are talking of a future they can not yet imagine, I imagine there is some truth in what they say. Ideally, the plan is to make the best of our time together, and be kind to each other as much a possible while getting stuff done.

Edward w. missiles

Military museum: David in a tank
Last year we visited all museums we could find in Switzerland. Some we've seen multiple times. We've been to most of the Ort museums in the various parts of Zurich + neighboring areas. We've seen castles, caves, the military museum, the tram museum, the plane museum, the traffic museum and many others.

Edward, Pufi, Negruzi, Pestriti
This year we'll aim to focus more inward and towards our increased family with the many pets and properties we have accumulated.

T-rexes were just like chickens
Travel-wise, in February we are going to Tenerife - the biggest of the Canary Islands. It holds Spain's highest mountain, Mount Tiede. It will be James' first volcano, the 3rd volcano for Edward and David, and also our first active volcano. I have to make sure the animals will be happy while we are away and that the pipes won't freeze.

In 2016 we published "Made in Fire: You, Me and the Universe" and "A Child's First Book on Gravitational Waves". In 2017, we aim to finish two more books. One is already written and needs to be illustrated, and one still needs to be written. 

between armored vehicles
Then there are properties to manage: houses to fix, land to rent, land to sell. The big question I have is "will the EU will fail?", and if it does, how bad will things be for Romania, how deep will the depression be?, and will we still be safe.

bubble making w. Andy?
What else lies in the future?
a bike on tank?
Simulations of boson stars, of course, and some clock related research. Boson stars are made up of fundamental bosons, i.e., dark matter particles thatonly interact with themselves.  Dark matter particles could Bose condense into compact objects called boson stars. We could be living in a giant boson star, and we know that galaxies have haloes.  Stars might have haloes, too. The question is how to detect them. LIGO might see two colliding boson stars. They could also go through each other or repel each other depending on their angular momentum. Clocks might put some upper limits, but, at first sight, they don't seem accurate enough to get into interesting regimes.