The Glorious Adventure that is Research at Berkeley (not)

By: Danny Geisz | February 27, 2020

Project: Quark Gluon Plasma or whatever

Salutations, mad ablations! Gracious me is it a beautiful day here in Berkeley. From what I hear, Colorado is getting dumped on right now, so it’s amusing to look up and not see a single cloud in the sky. Ah hold on, I believe something I said needs clarifying. Within a certain subset of the Colorado population, the term “getting dumped on” means that Colorado is getting a ton of snow. One of the many lessons I’ve learned in California is that Colorado lingo, or mountain lingo in general (like “fourteener”) is not universal knowledge, so I don’t want to confuse any of you Californians or other non-Coloradans with my strange vernacular.

I happen to be sitting in the Earth Sciences and Maps Library on campus, which I mention only because this is only my second time in this library, so this is my formal proof to the universe that I’m trying to keep my life interesting. Ooh, something else: I decided on a whim to come to this here library, so I guess I’m becoming “spontaneous.” Gracious me. If I’m not careful Imma become a Social Sophia here pretty soon. That’s just not good for business. I’ll have to make a note to further limit my social interactions this week.

Now then, before I go any further, I would like give a big, huge, very large, and unrequested shoutout to Kathy #Last Name Redacted for Security Purposes#. Kathy #Last Name Redacted for Security Purposes# noticed that I was falling behind on posts, and she tossed me an email asking what the frickedy frick I was doing not regularly posting to XFA. Quite honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice, so Kathy #Last Name Redacted for Security Purposes# is really just an American Hero in my eyes.

Hmm. As long as I’m on the plug train, I’m going to plug one more thing. Sahale, I think you’ve been reading this blog, so just to let you and anyone else from FTO know, I watched y’all’s movie this Tuesday, and it was really quite spectacular. For all of you unfamiliar with Free Burma Rangers, I don’t think I can do their organization justice with my simple words, so go look them up, and if you can find it, watch the Free Burma Rangers documentary. I can assure you that it will be a much better use of your time than reading any of my silly, silly posts. I know I tend to be a bit…dramatic in these posts, but if you take nothing else away from this post, you gots to watch the Free Burma Rangers Documentary. The work they do is objectively magnificent.

It seems irreverent to jolt the conversation back onto myself after any mention of FBR, but hey, this be my blog, and so help me, I shall keep universal jurisdiction over this content if it’s the last thing I do. So then, we’re going to shift gears from social justice to silly, silly research at Berkeley.

Those of you keeping up to date with my posts will know that I have taken on a position studying Quark Gluon Plasma at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Now I know the nerdiness of the term “Quark Gluon Plasma” make roughly 1/3 of you want to flee, so let me give a brief extremely technical overview of what QGPs (Quark Gluon Plasmas) are. Basically, you start out with standard matter, so we’re talking like sandwiches, puppers, small goats, really anything you can see or touch (or physically interact with). You break the matter down into really, really small parts, which nerdy nerds like to call “particles,” because, I don’t know, a lack of imagination? Now then, you got a bunch of small bois, but to turn it into a QGP, you got to heat it up. A lot. Like to 10 Trillion degrees. So your standard toaster oven isn’t going to do the trick.

Holy cow, I’m pandering. Ahhhh this is gross. I can feel myself trying to change the way I write to ingratiate myself with a specific subset of my wee audience. You can’t get me that easily, small subset of my wee audience! Let me take a deep breath. Ok we’re better now.

Enough of that toaster oven garbage. Basically you throw small particles into a $4 billion dollar particle collider, and you literally just start spinning the small bois in a big loop. Once they get moving fast enough, you make them run into each other, and even then, the conditions have to be just right to actually form a QGP. I believe the term I used for QGP in a previous post was “hot bois.” That’s actually pretty accurate.

That’s what I’m supposed to be studying, at least. In reality, I have spent the last TWO AND A HALF WEEKS trying to build a piece of software that I’m supposed to learn about for my research group. TWO FRICKIN WEEKS. Have I been studying the hot bois? Absolutely not. I have been staring at a frikin linux shell tryna get stupid root to not conflict with the stupid g++ header files, and literally getting nothing done.

And the real kicker is (don’t tell my research group), there are so many other things I’d rather be doing than studying hot bois. My time working on Orchid and Super Secret App Project is sacred, and so I have to spend 9 hours a week intently gazing upon a perpetually exploding piece of software.

“Okay buddy,” I hear you say, “calm down. It’s really not that bad.” *deep breath*. You’re right, wise reader. You’re always right. Why don’t I listen to you more often?

Man alive, I got myself on an emotional diatribe again. Amazing how quickly that will happen. You are right, of course, calming reader. It really isn’t too bad. I actually just talked to Barbara (the group leader), and if I can’t get this stupid software to compile, I’m going to bounce on over to a new project. Thank goodness. I basically hate acts-framework’s guts anyway so good riddance.

Enough of me complaining about this incredibly opportunity I have to help further human knowledge in incredible ways. I think now I’m going to talk about research at Berkeley in general.

While stereotyping people is usually an all-around bad practice, I’m going to quickly put Berkeley’s population into two main groups. You got the STEM people, and you got the humanities people. I’m going to talk about the STEM people because I’m really just one of them.

For STEM Berkeleans, research is almost like currency. You got to get it, no matter what it takes. Instead of focusing on what knowledge the research is actually producing, the term “research” has become this vague, nebulous object that you’re either a part of, or you’re not. Somehow, even though it is never explicitly said, Berkeley convinces you that you’re doing something wrong if you don’t manage to get “research” during your time in college. Does it matter what the research is? Certainly not! Does it matter whether it’s in a subject that interests you? Not in Berkeley’s eyes. No, you just got to get it. This is especially true for non-computer science majors, cause you don’t really have to research in CS to land a 6-figure job.

Those of you who actually live in Berkeley may have an entirely different experience than this, but I’m guessing it’s probably fairly similar. This has been my experience at least.

I would, however, like to add several caveats. In my experience, once you actually land a research position, your supervisors are generally very encouraging of you finding the research that most interests you. Also, there is a subset of the Berkeley population, and these are the real heroes, that are actually really, really interested in the stuff they are researching. These are the people I hope will be filling the great Universities of the future.

Now then, coming into college, being a small timid sheep very susceptible to Berkeley’s whisperings, I too became irrationally convinced that the acquisition of research was of principle importance. In my defense, throughout high school I generally lived by the philosophy that I should take any academic opportunity I could get my hands on, so I was a perfect target for Berkeley’s subconscious manipulations.

Anyhooooo, whence upon arriving in the golden state, I quickly began looking for every opportunity to push myself in physics (even though I literally didn’t like physics at the time), and by second semester I had landed myself a cute little URAP position with the ATLAS group at CERN.

Hold on a moment. I just realized that I don’t have a thesis for my current points. Wow I was literally just monologuing about my life. Who wants that? I’m about to hit six pages, so let me think about some conclusion that can be drawn from this little tale. Hmmm. This is hard. Ok I got one.

Maybe, and this is a novel idea, don’t do things just because other people are doing them. I don’t think anyone has ever said that in any context ever in my entire life ever (yes, that was sarcasm you detected). I suppose that adage probably falls under the category of clichés that people say a lot, and then don’t really follow.

Well I suppose I can say something more meaningful. Even though it doesn’t fit into the glorious vision I had in high school of winning a Nobel Prize in Physics, it turns out that I really just enjoy writing software way more than doing physics. Ain’t that the darndest thing.

You know, “Sahale” really is a very good name. Of all the names that a person can have, Sahale is really one of the better ones. I think Sahale might be a mountain in Alaska. Dang, I forgot. Sahale, if you’ve made it to this point, do me a favor and message me about what your parents named you after. Or don’t. You’re probably galivanting around on some mountain right now anyway.

Anyway, for the rest of you, may your knees never lock out, and your backpacks remain intact.