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Susanne Reffert | IPMU | Japan

View Blog | Read Bio

On Interactions

For the theorist, interacting with other theorists is one of the most important sources of creative input. Our main currency is ideas, and they are seldom conceived in isolation. It is mainly for the sake of meeting and discussing with colleagues that we travel to conferences or visit other departments to give seminar talks. The ideas for almost all of the papers I have coauthored in my postdoc years have been sparked by discussions with people outside my own group.
One of the leading themes of IPMU is fostering interactions among its researchers. That’s why we have this huge interaction space in the center of our new building, and that’s why we are being lured out from our offices with coffee, tea and cookies every day.
What is special about IPMU is that it wants to foster interactions between all its researchers, be they mathematicians, particle theorists, observational astronomers, cosmologists, string theorists or particle experimentalists. IPMU is not organized in groups, but as a community. This is really different from all the places I have been before, where you were meant to talk mostly to your own crowd and were being looked at strangely for being caught talking to the people of the “wrong” floor (which, incidentally, is also why office spaces at IPMU mix all disciplines).
This community feeling has a number of positive effects. I don’t interact mostly with my peers, which form a small and highly competitive community, where people have a close eye on each other’s work and jealously guard their own. Here, I am friends with mathematicians, particle phenomenologists, experimentalists and astrophysicists, and, incidentally, also with a few fellow string theorists. This mix relaxes the atmosphere during tea time a lot.
Hanging out with a more varied crowd also gets me more exposed to other forms of physics that are not my daily bread. I am more ready to attend seminars outside my own field.
Of course people who have a good time are happier and will work better. But does actual science come from these interdisciplinary interactions?
For myself, I can say that our last paper was coauthored with a mathematician, and two more from the last two years had benefited greatly from discussions with statistical physicists. For me, it works.

I guess that giving us the possibility to interact across different fields is a way of preparing a fertile ground for great new ideas. They might not come immediately, but they find an inviting environment. And to tackle the important questions about our universe, good ideas are needed.

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