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Zoe Louise Matthews | ASY-EOS | UK

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Prof. J. Rafelski: “The theorist, the philosopher and the experimentalist”

Just a nice little quote for now. On friday I met Prof. Johann Rafelski, theoretical physicist, Professor of Physics at the University of Arizona since 1987 and co-author of “Hadrons and Quark Gluon Plasma” with Jean Letessier, among many other things. He is an inspiring man, and I wanted to take the opportunity to catch him whilst he was at CERN for the day to discuss some of the physics ALICE hopes to do in the coming months. During our discussion, I asked some questions that I had shared with my supervisor regarding the book. My supervisor studied Physics and Philosophy and has an incredible ability to sort through abstract mathematics and pinpoint the meaning in a way which makes sense to me. Rafelski told me something over lunch in response to my questions that really made me smile.

“A philosopher knows how to think. A theorist knows how to manipulate the equations. An experimentalist knows what is possible.”

That is what I am. An experimentalist. To complete my PhD, I will need to find out what, of the many interesting theoretical possibilities regarding my measurement, may be detected in the constraints of our experiment, and to establish what any given possibility will look like. The great thing about collaborative work is that people come together to share in their skills, and as I have said before, it is crucial to the development of science. Those with the expertise to establish theories and try to assess their consequences will be looking to us, the experimentalists, working (for example at the LHC) to use what they can tell us to interpret what is really seen. It feels good to be a cog in the works. 🙂

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