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Meet a Mentor: Orodruin

  1. Oct 23, 2014 #1
    Meet a Mentor is a fun series to help you get to know your wonderful Mentors better.

    Constructive questions and comments are welcome!

    Today we meet: Orodruin


    Give us a brief history of Orodruin

    7 years of freedom, 12 of school, and at university ever since. Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, I always liked mathematics and was one of those weird kids who stayed home reading ahead in the maths book while other kids were out having fun (hey, their loss). I graduated from an engineering physics program in early 2004 and was lucky enough to obtain funding directly from the university to continue with PhD studies in the same group where I did my Master thesis project. Three and a half years later I graduated and was able to stay for half a year more until moving to Germany for my first post-doc. In total, I spent 4.5 years as a postdoc at different institutes in Germany before returning to my home university as an assistant professor.

    Tell us about your time in Sweden. What are you favorite parts?

    Almost 30 years is a long time ... I have enjoyed several different aspects, from warm and light summer nights to going to the mountains to ski in the few hours of daylight in the winter. Probably the most apparent thing is the change of the scenery with the seasons. It can get quite depressing in the dark winter months, in particular before the snow comes, but the best part is probably when spring arrives and the people come back to life after winter hibernation.

    What parts of your physics education/training were difficult and how did you overcome them?

    I have been lucky enough not to have huge obstacles during my education. Of course there have been some minor bumps in the road, but nothing really major. On the other hand, I am the kind of person who always worries about uncertain futures and postdoc life really does not agree well with such a mentality. The hardest time I had was probably the first few months of my first postdoc. After being uprooted from the city where I had always lived until then I was in a new place where I knew nobody and was expected to deliver as an independent researcher. The stress of not knowing whether you are good enough to "make it" can be quite apparent and you can also see it in others. I can still feel the pressure at times when applying for research grants. On the other hand, I met a lot of interesting people, some of which I consider among my best friends, during my postdoc years and I would not want to have them undone, neither from a scientific nor from a personal perspective.

    Which scientists were most important to you while growing up and through your studies?

    Probably a bit cliché, but my grandmother gave me one of Stephen Hawking's books when I was 14 and that opened my eyes to the world of theoretical physics. I started reading quite a lot of popular science and mathematics and physics caught me right in the heart. I do not really have a favourite scientist as such as I was always more interested in the physics than the people behind it. Probably my main role models were my mathematics and physics teachers who encouraged me and spurred me on to learn more rather than quenching my interest. Most of them will always be role models for me in my own teaching.

    How did you become interested in neutrino physics?

    I think this was more by chance than by choice. During my studies my interests were swinging back and forth between mathematics to experimental physics. I guess it settled somewhere in between with theoretical particle physics. Within high energy physics, the only group at my university was doing neutrino phenomenology and so I did my Master thesis on the subject and then continued in that direction during my PhD. That being said I think it is still a fascinating subject with several open questions and an active experimental community. In some sense this is very similar to the situation in dark matter physics, which I also take an active interest in. In particular regarding non-WIMP theories of dark matter.

    Tell us about your work and career as an assistant professor

    The assistant professorships are my university's tenure track positions. I currently have 30% teaching and 70% research in my contract, which is a ratio I find pretty optimal. I like both, but teaching can sometimes be very demanding. In the end, I also spend a lot of my spare time on improving my teaching and the way my courses are taught. Trying to modernise the theoretical physics education at my university is something necessary and something that hopefully will leave an impact.

    Apart from teaching, research and supervising Master and PhD students also takes up quite some time and time seems to be in short supply these days. The down side of it all is the need to write grant proposals and attract external funding to the group. However, it is something necessary in order to continue on the research track.

    If you could solve one question in physics what would it be and why is it important to you?

    I would like to know whether neutrinos are Dirac or Majorana particles. Clearly this is not going to be solved by one single person but by elaborate and targeted experimentation. I think it is the one most important question in my field. When I was an undergraduate student I was sure they were Dirac. After all, all of the other fermions were. When doing my Master thesis, I started reading up on the theories of neutrino mass and realised that Majorana neutrinos was a perfectly viable theoretical construction that even held some advantages over Dirac ones. Nowadays, I try to keep a more agnostic view and am looking forward to when the question is solved. Another problem is finding out the nature of dark matter, where I think the WIMP paradigm may have been overemphasised. In particular in the light of the recent negative results of the accelerator searches.

    What are some of your favorite movies, books and musicians?

    From my screen name, most people would guess (correctly) that I enjoy the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the other parts of Tolkien's universe. When it comes to books I have always been fond of fantasy and I am currently waiting intently for the release of the next book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R. Martin (which most people know from the HBO series Game of Thrones).

    When it comes to movies and music, I am a bit of an omnivore. I enjoy several different genres of movies and when it comes to music I can listen to anything from classical music to rock to musicals to Tom Lehrer. I would like to say that I like good music, but that would be a bit pretentious.

    Is there a recent research in science/tech that excites you?

    I find the ideas of Project 8 (http://www.project8.org) to be very exciting. They are taking a new approach to measuring neutrino mass through beta decay processes and it will be very interesting to see how far they can push the bounds and potentially make a discovery in the future. Unlike earlier beta decay experiments that use spectrometers, Project 8 will use synchrotron radiation in order to achieve a better resolution. Who knows, maybe this technology might eventually also be able to measure the cosmic background of neutrinos (similar to the cosmic microwave background, but with neutrinos instead of photons). Doing so would be an experimental feat that nobody would have even imagined when Fermi presented his theory of beta decay and derived the neutrino interaction rates.

    How did you happen upon Physics Forums and why is it important to you?

    This was largely coincidental and I must admit I do not really know how it happened. A likely scenario is that I was googling for reference material for one of my classes and just happened to pass by. I have always liked explaining and discussing physics so I probably saw a question that I felt I could give some input on so I signed up, posted, and have been stuck here since. A less flattering, but also possible scenario is that I sometimes suffer from SIWOTI (Someone Is Wrong On The Internet) syndrome: http://xkcd.com/386/

    The thing that makes Physics Forum unique is the wide variety of members and discussions. From very young students asking elementary questions in the homework forums to some high level discussions in the technical forums. There are experts in many fields and it is essentially always possible to get some input. If I had to quote one reason only, it would be the homework forums and the learning opportunities they present to students. and in particular how they encourage students to think for themselves while being guided by many highly qualified members. The mentors in the homework forums must have a really tough job to maintain this environment! I wonder who they managed to fool into doing that ... :rolleyes:


    Thanks for participating Orodruin!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 23, 2014 #2
    Always wanted to visit. I'm not into winter sports though so I think I'll wait for summer :)

    Have you seen the skiing with the LED jump suits. I think Borek posted it a few days ago. It's amazing.

    Amazing how many kids he may have inspired.

    That would be me too even though I still need to get through A Feast for Crows

    haha yeah, it never ends :D
     
  4. Oct 23, 2014 #3

    dlgoff

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    Nice to meet you. And thanks for this.
     
  5. Oct 23, 2014 #4

    jedishrfu

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    Great post!
     
  6. Oct 23, 2014 #5

    Orodruin

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    You may have to wait for some time then ... Winter is coming :D
     
  7. Oct 23, 2014 #6

    lisab

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    Wow, that's an amazing biography, and you're still so (relatively) young! What would you like to be doing in five, ten, and twenty years?
     
  8. Oct 24, 2014 #7

    Orodruin

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    Ten and twenty years seems very long. I realised quite some time ago that a Nobel prize is too much to hope for - but with some luck I might be among those deciding who gets one. As the situation is today, I am quite content with what I do and work is sufficiently challenging - My first PhD student is starting in a few weeks.

    20 years also happens to be the time span for the neutrino beam experiments currently being discussed. With any luck, leptonic CP violation will be discovered and we will know a little bit more.
     
  9. Oct 26, 2014 #8
    Nice reading!

    We seem to have much in common. I'm from Sweden too, I like particle physics (but I'm not a physicist), I'm a music omnivore, I like Tolkien. Weird o0). I wish you good luck with your first PhD student!
     
  10. Oct 26, 2014 #9
    Great to read about you, Orodruin! Didn't know you were an Assistant Professor. That is certainly quite an achievement. :)
     
  11. Oct 27, 2014 #10

    ZapperZ

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    So when are you going to be up for tenure, Orodruin? Need any support letter from PF? :)

    And I've always loved IKEA!

    :D:D:D:D:D:D:D

    Zz.
     
  12. Oct 27, 2014 #11

    jtbell

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    I'm glad to see you're a "neutrino guy." :D I was one myself, in grad school 30+ years ago, but I ended up going into a purely teaching career after my Ph.D.
     
  13. Oct 27, 2014 #12

    Orodruin

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    I have to apply for evaluating my tenure within the next two years. Let's see what the situation looks like ;)

    What about our other famous exports? ABBA, Roxette, H&M, meatballs, Volvo, and fermented herring? No wait! I take that last one back ...

    30+ is a lot in neutrino time scales ... We live in interesting times.
     
  14. Oct 27, 2014 #13

    jtbell

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    And lut[e]fisk, although that seems to be a pan-Nordic phenomenon. Fortunately, my Finnish grandparents apparently grew up far enough inland that they weren't into lipeäkala, and didn't bring it with them to the US. At least I never heard of it among the "Finn gang" that my parents knew.
     
  15. Oct 28, 2014 #14

    Evo

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    Very impressive Orodruin! And you've already proven yourself to be an excellent mentor.
     
  16. Oct 31, 2014 #15

    lisab

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    Wait a minute...meatballs are originally from Sweden? I mean, I know Swedish meatballs are famous, but were they invented there? I just figured they were like eggs: everyone has their own version they call their own.
     
  17. Oct 31, 2014 #16

    Evo

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    Hmmmpf.
    And this is just in writing. :rolleyes:
     
  18. Oct 31, 2014 #17

    lisab

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    Wow :D!
     
  19. Nov 1, 2014 #18

    Orodruin

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    That everyone has their own inferior version should not stop us from exporting our superior version, right? It is like italians with pasta, it sure was not invented in Italy but they are the ones who are famous for it.
     
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