Skip to content Skip to navigation

Life Among Physicists

Leo Kirsch
Wednesday, Jun 29th 2016
The staff scientists here are professionals. They are training me in ways orthogonal to the instruction I receive at Berkeley. I mean "orthogonal" the same way it is meant in matrix algebra: the new skills I am learning take me in a completely different research direction, but they are of the same magnitude in terms of career importance. Unfortunately I can't share any pictures of my work as per lab policy. 

Los Alamos is like an inverse college town: it gets busy in the summer and empties out during the school year. If you signed up for an apartment late you are paying more than (gasp) Berkeley! Some students I know commute 40 minutes each day from Santa Fe and live in a hotel there! There is no tenant more desperate than an undergrad who is doing his or her first internship in the hopes that it will secure a grad school acceptance letter. Los Alamos National Lab hired more students than ever this year, but have only made meagre attempts to increase the housing capacity. I currently live in a previously condemned apartment complex, but the commute is short and the rent is cheap.

The only advice I can offer in search of living is to have either punctuality, persistence, dumb luck, or wads of cash. In my case it was dumb luck: the condemned apartments reopened (unrenovated) right when I began my search, they are technically still condemned.

The first few days I arrived, I worked alone in the basement and I faced a crisis in my life that I am stuck in the desert and have no friends. But after a bit of patience, my office was transferred to upstairs and more students arrived at the lab. We quickly realized we have similar interests and now there is a group of 8 guys in my cohort, undergrad to postdoc age, who get together regularly and play board games. Though being students from all over the country, we had some disagreements on culture and behavior but we worked out our differences and helped each other through some drama. As it turns out, people's interior lives aren't as good as they appear on facebook. 

I miss my Berkeley friends and the routine activities like softball, happy hour, and Waffle Wednesday. I find it hard to split my time between LANL research and thesis research but the painful stretch broadens my capacity to work and give of myself.

P.S. If you were wondering what happened on Lake Powell with the jet ski running out of gas in my last blog post, I'll fill you in with the remainder of the story. As it turns out the gas gauge is calibrated for a non accelerating vehicle. So when we started to make our trip back to the dock, we cooled the jets and coasted smoothly back. The system adjusted and realized it was on "E" and beeped for the entire 20 minute ride back. Luckily towards the end we were able to ride in another boat's wake while the jet ski lulled us all with its inharmonious siren song. Luckily our faces were sunburned or else they would have noticed how embarrassed we were when we arrived at the gas dock.