Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

What We Leave Behind

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Pictures of David & Ryan, within hours of their defenses. The psychological toll is evident. Photo credit (left to right): Ryan, Dave. (Posted without Dave’s permission.)

As I bragged about in the post I wrote two days after my doctoral defense, one of the things that I was proudest of was slipping a bunch of jokes past my thesis committee. Sure, it was gratifying to receive the acclimation of accomplished physicists on the culmination of 5 years of research and over a decade of scientific training. But sometimes, at a moment like that, what matters the most is getting some solid goofs preserved in perpetuity upon a dusty shelf in the corner of the esteemed library of my and Dave’s elite Rhode-Island-based university that Aitchbar refuses to mention by name for some reason.

Despite this, my dissertation, with the catchy name Quality-Selected Lensing Analysis of Galaxy Clusters in Subaru Telescope Fields hasn’t gotten the kind of internet heat I would have expected. So I felt like I ought to come up with a primer to point interested parties to the comedy gold. You, dear reader, can be assured that these things are funny, because they have been approved of by astrophysicists in terms of their scientific content. As much humor writing is.

So here’s a rundown for someone who might want to skip all the way more interesting astrophysics parts. This is the link to that dusty library’s online pdf. Here’s the rundown:

Multiple references to The Room
—Use of “future wife” to refer to my then-fiance
—“[Person] thinks about everything”


Writers have some latitude with chapter-heading quotes. They don’t contain any particular content and are frequently literary references. Therefore, I made the most of them.

—Einstein burn (Pg 13):

Once the Big Bang model became the prevailing cosmology, the expansion of the universe provided sufficient opposition against collapse, and the cosmological constant was relegated to the status of mathematical artifact—a non-physical term equal to zero².

²As a growing body of observations supplanted the concept of a steady-state universe, Einstein’s inclusion of Λ to preserve static space-time famously became known as his “biggest blunder.” This is interesting in light of the fact that Albert Einstein spent a significant fraction of his later career disputing the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics and promoting hidden variable theories.

This is just facts. Einstein is the greatest physicist in history–he can handle it.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-1-32-54-amChapter 3 was fun, but the chapter heading quote wasn’t. Shakespeare. Ugh. Snoresville.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-1-38-35-amScreen Shot 2016-12-03 at 1.40.32 AM.png

Rumsfeld may be a war criminal, but he managed to neatly summarize epistemic modal logic in a press conference about the immoral war he was helping to lead. In a just world, he’d be contemplating logical philosophy from a prison cell, but the world isn’t just, so he gets to live on in my thesis for a thing he once said that was pretty on point.

Hey! Remember what was up on Buzzfeed in February 2015? I did. In perpetuity.screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-1-41-23-am

¹Or white and gold.

Future historians will recognize my important work documenting an internet meme in academic literature.


After all the fun work and research, you get to do a summary. I summarized what my dissertation was about, and then you get a little closing statement. It isn’t particularly jokey, but I’m proud of it. My thesis involved taking as much free quality telescope data as I could, and analyzing it through the technique of weak gravitational lensing. It was a buy-one-get-one-free kind of doctorate, but I think it presages a new way of doing science in our dawning age of data gluttony. Here’s what I wrote:

Observational astrophysics, advanced largely by improvements in detector technology and computational power, is poised to enter an age of truly staggering data intake. As massive observatories such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, and the Thirty Meter Telescope come online in the next decade, the light-gathering abilities of ground-based astronomy will scale upwards dramatically, as will the technical demands for the thorough analysis thereof. Weak lensing studies of large sections of the sky will become further refined in precision, and automated tools for aggregating vast amounts of data (similar to but on much larger scales than this work) will transition from convenience to necessity. Wide-field WL studies, such as this one, are providing essential calibration and methodology for the era which is about to come.


Author: (Ryan) Michney

Dread Astronomer

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