Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dinner with a Physicist

At a recent dinner party, one of our friends at the gathering was a physicist. After the meal, when general talk had begun, I asked the scientist, “Could we talk business? I have a few questions relating to your work?”

He smiled and nodded his approval, so we walked off to the side to refill our wine glasses, and I began, “I read that physicists now believe there are eleven dimensions going on around us at the same time. Is that correct?” Not the usual sort of question you can ask and expect a decent reply.

He said, “We know of four. Anything beyond that is speculation.” It was the scientist speaking. He continued, “Those four known dimensions are height, width and depth, then time as the fourth. What we see everyday.”

“Do many physicists believe there are eleven dimensions?” I asked.
Without hesitation he answered, “Some”.

For a couple of years now I had seen in newspapers that physicists say there are eleven dimensions, heard it on the radio, read it on the Internet. He wiped that concept out for me in two seconds. We refilled our glasses and I thought I saw a smirk. Scientists don’t want to be incorrect, that much I knew. We sipped again. Knowing my friend works at a major state owned scientific laboratory, and often travels to international conferences I probed further, wanting to know what a physicist does. “What are you currently working on?”, I asked.

“Gravitation,” he replied.

Now I was getting somewhere. I could see a group of them in their lab coats studying gravity, but, “How do go about that? What do you do everyday?” I asked.

“We watch a large tube of aluminum. It is a little more that eighteen meters long, about 60 centimeters wide and weighs nearly two and a half tons,” he explained. “The tube is suspended and we measure the effect of gravitation on the tube.”

“Does it go up and down? Or, do you drop it? What do you do with it?” I asked.

“It just hangs there. We electronically measure for any movement. Gravitational changes that come from exploding stars out there in the universe will make it move,” he said as he waved toward the heavens.

“Well, where does gravity comes from?”

“Earth’s gravity comes from the mass of earth itself, while the moon, on the other hand, has smaller mass, therefore less gravity.”

I shook my head as if I was keeping up with the scientist. I knew Jupiter was a giant and wanted to ask how much a man would weigh on that planet but my friend was busy writing a number on a piece of paper. It began with a decimal point and three or four zeros, then several numbers. When he finished he handed it to me and read it off. I saw it was annotated with something to indicate this number was to the minus nineteenth power. I didn’t even know numbers went to the minus power. It never does that at the supermarket.

My friend tapped on the paper and said that large number to the minus nineteenth power represents the effect of gravity. It was what he called a light pull. “It won’t be a source of power for spaceships in the future.”

“Are we going to be able to use gravity to power something small like automobiles?”

He shook his head no. “The force is too light.”

Evidently we are not going to power any vehicles with it. “how many physicists are at the lab where you work?” I asked.

“Oh, There’s about twenty five of us,” he said.

“I mean in the group that works on gravitation and watches the tube, are there four or five of you?”

“No, twenty-five. We all watch the tube.” I nodded in understanding.

“What about earthquakes? They move the tube don’t they?” I asked.

He smiled and nodded. “Earthquakes do. We can measure them.”

“How long have you been doing this, watching the tube, I mean?”

“Eleven years,” he said.

So there you have it. I was at a stand still, just like the tube. It’s quiet work they do; and what I learned from my physicist friend was that there are no other creatures in other dimensions walking around the earth that anyone knows about, and that gravity has a very, very slight pull. Just don’t jump out a window to test it, cause it still works.


SweetTalkingGuy said...

Dead good story Jack!

You must be sick of me by now but I'm sending you a link to my last trip to Italy:


Crafty Green Poet said...

eleven years watching a tube, I know there's a lot of deep science in that but its the type of reason why a life in science would have bored me to death.