By | Minh Nguyen ’14
Hanoi, Vietnam
Mathematics, Physics

“Physical intuition and imagination are essential for a great physicist.”

Doing theoretical physics is playing “detective” with Nature. Theoretical physicists confront seemingly unrelated pieces of information; their job is to interpret these pieces, link them together, and explore the simple yet elegant truth hidden beneath myriad equations.

Although advanced mathematics is an important component of theoretical physics, it’s not everything. Just as observational skills and experience are crucial for a detective, so are physical intuition and imagination essential for a great physicist.

Professor Tonnis ter Veldhuis and I worked on a collaborative research project—a branch of a larger program—investigating the idea that complex four-dimensional physical theories can be described by a much simpler gravitational theory in a higher dimension. This is known as the holographic principle, because holograms encode information about three-dimensional objects onto two-dimensional surfaces.

Physics problems are hard (which is why they’re fun!), so it’s important to be persistent, regardless of the difficulties you encounter. Research means being constantly confronted by challenges and finding ways to overcome them.

Professors at Mac encourage students to go beyond the regular coursework. Because of that encouragement, I did an independent study course called Supersymmetric Quantum Mechanics under Professor ter Veldhuis’s guidance, which proved vital to our summer research.

Engaging in original research at Macalester is important for international students like me because most external research programs don’t accept international students. In addition, Macalester offers free campus housing for research students and the city provides many entertaining options when you need a break from physics.

January 22 2014

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