Tag Archives: theory vs experiment

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.