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What it’s like to be a theoretical physicist

Image credit: L.A. Cicero
May 3 2019
Department News, Faculty, Students

Walk into Shamit Kachru’s office, and the first things you’ll notice are the couch and the coffee table that sits in front of it, both situated across from a chalkboard that takes up most of one wall. Intentionally or not, it is a social space. Kachru is a professor of physics and director of the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics, and what that means in practical terms is that when he’s not reading books or printouts of academic papers, he’s usually talking to other people and sharing ideas.

Of late, Kachru’s ideas include thoughts on how to better understand black holes through the lens of number theory, a branch of pure mathematics concerned with questions such as “What is the distribution of prime numbers?” And as a new member of Stanford Bio-X, more and more of the ideas Kachru thinks about concern biology and the theory of evolution, a field Kachru got into simply by talking to a fellow physicist.

Here, in a glimpse into the lives of theoretical physicists, Kachru, his former graduate student Natalie Paquette and two current graduate students, Brandon Rayhaun and Richard Nally, talk about what it’s like to be a theoretical physicist today – how they got into the field, what keeps them motivated and what their work means to them. [Read more.]