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Postcards from (the other) Cambridge - Days 3 and 4

Rachel with John Harvard!

Dear Plus in Cambridge (UK) and lovely Plus readers,

Well I'm all packed, checked out and ready to head home. It's been a great trip but I am looking forward to getting back to a place where I understand the road rules (I alternate between nearly being run over or not realising the reason a car has stopped is because it is patiently waiting for me to cross the road) and where I can get a nice cup of Earl Grey. Here's my highlights from the last couple of days...

I had a great time with Mboyo Esole, a lecturer in the maths and physics departments at Harvard. Esole patiently attempted to explain elliptic curves, elliptic fibrations and the geometry of string theory to me over a delicious lunch at a local Indian buffet. Salt shakers and table tops took on a life of their own as they stood in for higher dimensional spaces and singularities! It was really inspiring to hear him enthuse about the beauty of his field and how inspiration from the world of physics can lead mathematicians to discover unchartered areas of the world of maths.


Esole also showed me around the maths and physics departments. Highlights included:

Mboyo Esole outside the Jefferson Lab
  • Spotting Harvard chairs
  • Meeting his colleagues at the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature, including Andy Strominger, who we spoke to at Hawking's 70th birthday conference last week.
  • Climbing up to the top of a tower in the Jefferson Physical Laboratory – now it has a comfortable seating area and a great view over Harvard but originally it was used for ingenious experiments.
  • Seeing Mboyo's favourite tree, just outside the Jefferson Lab – it bursts into flower overnight each Spring!

Last night I headed into Boston on the Number 1 Bus, which not only goes past MIT but also past Fraternity houses named things like Alpha Delta Phi – just like in the movies! And it also takes you to Northeastern University, home of Laszlo Barabasi's Center for Complex Network Research. It was great to meet some of the researchers there and to sit in on a Network Science class. Then Barabasi explained the new perspective network science is bringing to a huge variety of areas - from understanding the world wide web to new strategies to tackle AIDS. Far from being just of theoretical interest, he says that "understanding the network gives you actionable principles you can use in the field". Stay tuned for the upcoming article!

See you all soon!

Plus in (the other) Cambridge

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