Monthly Archives: December 2012

Stepping stones or the value of theory

photo of stepping stones across a lake

"Way In The Lake" by Evgeni Dinev

When invited to present colloquia talks, I usually talk about atomic clocks and I am sometimes asked what a theorist is doing in this highly experimental field. I was thinking about this question for a while and then I was on a plane browsing through an in-flight catalog (you know the one that advertises stuff that you may want but really do not need) and I realized how to answer this question.

There was an ad for a beautiful wristwatch accompanied by a story on the fine craft  of clockmaking. The story was comparing making a wristwatch to building a skyscraper out of matchsticks. So I thought, by that account, experimentalists working on atomic clocks are performing miracles. And if these  experimentalists are walking on water, my role as a theorist is to show them where the stepping stones are.

Pauli's letter or the importance of technical details

This is one of my favorite illustrations of the importance of technical details. Below I am posting a figure from a paper by Peter Woit, where the Pauli's letter is displayed.

In 1958, Wolfgang Pauli sent letters to some fellow physicists, making fun of Werner Heisenberg's exaggerated claims to have developed a successful unified
theory. A copy of his letter to J. Robert Oppenheimer is shown here.

A letter of Pauli to Oppenheimer

The letter says: Comment on Heisenberg Radio advertisement.
This is to show the world that I can paint like Titian. [Empty frame with jagged sides]. Only technical details are missing.

Here is  a link to a similar letter to Gamov.

Can you spot an error?


New group site

Welcome to our new site. Our ten-year-old webpage at has reached the end of its natural life cycle and we decided to move to a modern self-hosted WordPress platform. Since WordPress is not supported by the ever vigilant UNR system administrators, we opened a creatively-named domain hosted by

The site includes blogging section, where we plan on posting semi-regular updates on our research and various physics-related musings.

We would appreciate if you let us know how fast the site loads for you; this will help us identifying any performance issues with our webhost.