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Monday, December 9, 2002

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  • Jerry Katz
    Issue #1283 - Monday, December 9, 2002 - Editor: Jerry __________________________________________________________________________
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 10, 2002
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      Issue #1283 - Monday, December 9, 2002 - Editor: Jerry
      Adrian Humphreys
      National Post

      Saturday, November 30, 2002
      CREDIT: Peter Redman, National Post
      Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara, one of the world's most nubile  physicists, chose to work at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo in her quest to construct a theoretical model of the universe.
      CREDIT: Peter Redman, National Post
      All work and no play ... Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara can relax in the Perimeter Institute's recreation room -- if she takes time to relax.

      WATERLOO - A wooden ladder climbs the east wall of the office of Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara, leading to the inner workings of an immense but broken clock, the visual highlight of the old post office building in downtown Waterloo.

      The ladder ends at a tiny door into the ceiling of what is now the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Despite working beside the inviting curio for more than a year, Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara, 31, has never ventured to peek upstairs.

      "When I was a kid, I really liked clocks. Clock repair was one of the things I considered going into when I was growing up. But now, the broken clock is right up there above my head and I have absolutely no interest in it," she says.

      For a young woman acclaimed for her bold inquisitiveness, it seems an odd response. And while those with broken clocks may lament her decision to instead delve into theoretical physics, members of the academic community -- those who think weighty thoughts about some of the most challenging issues in science -- are beginning to value her change of heart.

      Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara recently shared first prize in the US$15,000 Young Researchers competition at the Ultimate Reality Symposium in Princeton, N.J., an event honouring one of America's greatest living physicists, John Archibald Wheeler.

      Kenneth Ford, retired director of the American Institute of Physics, calls her a "brilliant young researcher" and the current Scientific American issue features an article hailing her as one of the world's most promising young physicists.

      Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara takes the praise in stride.

      "It's hilarious, isn't it? They pay me to do this," she says, breaking into a laugh.

      From her office in an innovative, privately funded institute, she is now tackling quantum gravity, one of the biggest question marks in science. It is nothing short of searching for a unified theory wrapping together Albert Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory.

      In essence, picking up where Einstein left off.

      For this kind of stuff, there seem few better places than the two-year-old Perimeter Institute, founded through a $100-million donation by Mike Lazaridis, president of Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion.

      Officially, Perimeter is a community of scientists dedicated to the bold investigation of theoretical physics. A better description might be a playpen for young geniuses.

      The old post office, with its cut- stone exterior, hardwood floors and clock tower, is a large, historic and romantic piece of property.

      One floor below Dr. Markop-oulou-Kalamara's office is the institute's recreation area, complete with pool table, sound system, a long bar, coffee machines, and refrigerators of beer, pop and juice. Overstuffed sofas and chairs are arranged around wooden chess sets. In a corner are shelves, filled with more board games.

      Only two things set it apart from any refined bar or coffee house.

      First are the walls. On almost every vertical surface, there are blackboards covered by scrawls in white chalk: complex formulae, numbers, frantically drawn diagrams and graphs. The boards seem strategically placed, perhaps in case genius strikes when shooting pool or if an argument breaks out on the validity of string theory while making espresso.

      Second is the reading material. No Vanity Fair or Esquire. Here are stacks of Physics Today, Physics World and Classical and Quantum Gravity.

      Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara selected Perimeter for a five-year research term -- following a global trot of academic institutions after completing high school in her native Greece -- largely because of the people and the welcoming environment, she says.

      The atmosphere, along with the stability from the hefty donations, are crucial to the institute's success, says Howard Burton, its executive director.

      "We are a well-endowed institution that has a lot of very strong people who are well-motivated. That's the good news. The bad news is we're in Canada," says Dr. Burton.

      "We're in a place that, by and large, does not have a prominent role in the global theoretical physics community. We're not even in a major urban centre. We're not even in Toronto. We're in a place without beautiful geography, without a tropical climate. Physical theorists aren't stupid people, they tend to put their institutes in that sort of place."

      Perimeter, however, does provide scientists financial security, technical support and a creative environment, freeing them to think big thoughts and, one hopes, come up with big answers.

      The keyword is big. Bigger than big. The biggest. Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara's quest is to construct a sensible, testable, theoretical model of the universe.

      It is in the notion of testing that her boldness shows.

      "Some say that there will be no way of testing within our lifetime. I think these people are wrong.

      "Something like two years before they had direct evidence for atoms, they were writing that we would never know, that we would never be able to test atomic theories. And now look, most of the technology around us is based in some way on the knowledge that atoms exist."

      Despite her passion, her interest in theoretical physics developed almost by chance.

      "At age 16 or 17 I started getting science magazines and, even more hilariously, computer magazines, even though I didn't have a computer. I went through my nerd phase," she says.

      She moved from Athens for a science degree at the University of London, but had no firm idea of what she wanted to study. A high school teacher, noting her proficiency, told her to write theoretical physics on the application.

      "I didn't really know what it was when I enrolled but I figured I could always change it once I got there," she says.

      While Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara was completing her degree, a friend in graduate school invited her to a lecture on quantum gravity by physicist Chris Isham. Because the lecture was on her way home, she stuck her head in. And became hooked. She applied for graduate studies and persuaded Dr. Isham to be her thesis advisor.

      From there, she studied at the Albert Einstein Institute in Berlin and at Pennsylvania State University under Lee Smolin.

      Dr. Smolin, who has written highly respected books on quantum gravity and was touted by Discover magazine as "the new Einstein," is also now researching at Perimeter.

      More than a dozen researchers from around the world have signed on and moved in to the institute. Daniel Gottesman, from the University of California at Berkeley, arrives in January. Lucien Hardy, from the Centre for Quantum Computation in Oxford, joined last month.

      Dr. Markopoulou-Kalamara is excited by the community building up at Perimeter. And she is confident that all of the thinking and talking will bring substantial, testable results.

      "It would be nice if, in five years, theoretical quantum physics has become real physics."


      © Copyright 2002 National Post

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      I was unaware that the institute which hosts
      Dr Kalamara is funded by a large donation
      from the owner of RIM:


      I have been watching RIM with interest for
      several years. RIM seems to be succeeding
      by the method of combining a workable
      business plan with excellent technology
      employing mobile wireless, the 'Next
      Big Thing'.

      Moving forward in an economy plagued
      by investor cynicism: (I wonder where the
      author of the NYT article has been for the
      past 10 years... or is he  being paid to be
      a wet blanket?)


      RIM was 'there' before other players
      even got a whiff of the coffee: (Last week
      the 'big three' announced joint effort to
      market wireless internet connectivity)


      The link below illustrates the future of
      ubiquitous connectivity via  technology:

      "... the death of distance... "


      (I am sure that in only a short while,
      Micro$oft will show up, claiming to
      have 'innovated' mobile wireless
      internet connectivity, and offering
      too-expensive and proprietary
      'new standards' using their
      tablet PC.)

      Anyway... I am 'connecting the dots'
      to link the viability of RIM, Dr Kalamara,
      and wireless ubiquitous internet access.

      This has to do with the establishment of
      means for worldwide interpersonal
      connectivity, using affordable technologies
      which can be supported even in low-tech
      '3rd world' regions; but more importantly,
      it is yet another step in the outpicturing of
      our human nature, both physical and
      spiritual. The human body is composed
      of various  physical networks (neural,
      circulatory, endocrine) and our interpersonal
      life is informed by networks of relationships
      with 'others'; we are seeing a surge of
      effort to bring into practical form, enhancements
      of our natural  form and functions.

      In my imagination, I see that the RIM/Kalamara
      collaboration may lead to radical new technology,
      such as 'quantum gravity wave communication'
      and 'subspace digital radio'. I can hardly wait!

      Nothing matters. Nothing.
      It's like drawing on water with a finger.
      It happened, yet nothing happened.
      Much ado about nothing
      That's us humans
      Enlightenment, God, you, me ...
      all writing on water
      this too ...
      The unsung heroes of poetry 
      Translators barely receive a mention, but they deserve a Nobel
      prize, says Daniel Weissbort 
      Saturday November 23, 2002 The Guardian 
      "translation, as a mediation between cultures that requires total
      attention to primary utterances, and reciprocity rather than
      subservience, is a model for the traffic between nations."
      from The Other Syntax
      A Warriors Beloved...
      "The life of a warrior cannot possibly be cold and lonely and
      without  feelings because it is based on his affection, his
      devotion, his dedication  to his beloved. And who, you may ask, is
      his beloved? This earth, this  world. For a warrior there can be no
      greater love."
      Tales Of Power
      Carlos Castaneda
      Salon columnist Brother Void -- seeker, sufferer, sage -- each week
      offers readers one of his "afflictions," bitter pills of dark truth
      and painfully hard-won wisdom inspired by the works of Kafka,
      Nietzsche and others.
      "Make the right mistake." -- Yogi Berra 
      There are times in life when you're lost and no job or career path
      feels right. You're doing something, but you're doing it
      halfheartedly. When you find yourself drifting and slacking like
      this, remember: you don't have to know what you're doing, you just
      have to do it as hard as you possibly can. 
      It's only when you do something with all your heart that you find
      out what it is you're really doing. When everything feels kind of
      wrong, you have to choose one wrong thing and work really hard at
      it. This will help you see your way clear to the next wrong thing,
      and the next, until you reach some right thing -- if you ever do.
      Obviously, working hard at the wrong thing may result in
      irritability, depression, embezzlement or industrial sabotage. But
      this is a small price to pay for finding your true life's work. 
      I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm doing it as hard as I possibly
      Hard path for Hollywood 'It' boy
      "If you're gonna dive in," he says, "dive into the deep end."
      "You might have such concentration that you cannot hear a drum
      beaten right beside your ear, but it will be useless if you do not
      have this mind [the mind of bodhichitta, awakened compassion]. . .
      . . Seeing visions of tutelary deities, achieving clairvoyance and
      miraculous powers, or having mountain-range-firm concentration are
      useless on their own; meditate on love and compassion!"
      -- quoted by Pabongka Rinpoche in _Liberation in the Palm of Your
      Dear Community,
      It recently came to my attention that Babatunde Olatunji ("Drums of
      Passion"  and others played so often in HB first hours) needs
      kidney dialysis. He is  living at Esalen. I thought some of you
      might be interested in his letter  (below).
      Love, Kylea
      Dear Friend,
      Greetings from Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California
      To you I need no introduction. At present I am trying to raise
      $30,000 (US)  to purchase a Dialysis machine at the cost of $25,000
      and supplies and  medical accessories to operate the machine. With
      this machine I will be able  to travel to many countries in the
      With your donation of $25 or more you will receive, by return mail,
      a small  CD of my performance with Radio City Music Hall 66 piece
      orchestra in a  composition based on African Folk songs and dances,
      and "BunBamba  Celebration" with my 14-piece band in the 70's. The
      Radio City Symphony  performance was my biggest introduction to
      show business in 1958. These  recordings are no available in
      Please send your donation to:
      Michael B. Olatunji
      c/o Esalen Institute
      55000 Highway One
      Big Sur, CA 93920
      Thank you,
      M. B. Olatunji

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