Sunday, March 29, 2009

Visit at Nordita in Stockholm

Last week I was in Stockholm, Sweden, where I was visiting Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics, and gave a seminar on Phenomenological Quantum Gravity.

Nordita is an interesting place. The building is located right next to the Department of Physics, at Stockholm University that I had visited before. Nordita was founded in 1957 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was relocated to Stockholm in January 2007. Their building is shown in the photo above. If you have been there before, the entry to the AlbaNova University Center is to the left. You can find some more photos of the building here.

Nordita's main mission is to strengthen the collaboration in theoretical physics between the five nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In their logo, shown to the left, each triangle stands for one of these countries. Nordita's research areas cover quite a quite diverse range of topics in theoretical physics: astrophysics and astrobiology, condensed matter, statistical and biological physics and high energy and nuclear physics. Compared to Perimeter Institute, it is a somewhat smaller institution. Though the faculty is of similar size, they have considerably fewer postdocs and students. Nordita further has a very active scientific program which brings together groups of leading experts to work on specific topics for extended periods, similarly eg to the programs at the KITP.

If you have not visited Stockholm before, let me add it is on my list with the most beautiful cities I've been to (together with Cape Town, Vienna and San Francisco). I don't speak Swedish but it is remarkable that literally everybody in Stockholm seems to speak English (and isn't funny about using it either as eg the French are). If you know German and English you can guess a lot of Swedish words though. Altogether a very interesting and enjoyable stay. Minus the snow.


  1. Hi Bee,

    “If you have not visited Stockholm before, let me add it is on my list with the most beautiful cities I've been to (together with Cape Town, Vienna and San Francisco)”

    You’ve convinced me that Stockholm is a city worth visiting, which is good for the only image I’ve ever had of the place is it was where Rene Descartes met his end, while in service of being Queen Christina’s private tutor on special request. From that list you present it’s Vienna I find the most intriguing, for in the beginnings of last century it was a Mecca for emerging new ideas and those that developed them, such as the members of the renowned Vienna Circle. Now that projects a different image for coffee houses. That in those years in such establishments rather then receiving a double latte you would more likely get an incompleteness theorem to go :-) The thing is however the Vienna I would have liked to visit resides in the past, although I guess this is as close as any of us will ever get.



  2. Hello Bee,

    I am your friend from the Philippines...

    You know what, I love to stay in your place...

    I hope someday I could be there..

    I found your place to be peaceful, people are caring, loving. And less those people who are not afraid to kill, unlike here.

    Stay cool always..

    God bless you.

  3. I envy you Bee. You get to visit all these cool places around the world for free.

  4. Hi Giotis,

    Though in this particular case I will be reimbursed, there have been many cases where I had to pay travel, accommodation, conference fees etc privately. The grass isn't always green on this side either. Best,


  5. Bee said: “Though in this particular case I will be reimbursed, there have been many cases where I had to pay travel, accommodation, conference fees etc privately. The grass isn't always green on this side either.”

    But you still could pay it “privately” (and still have some remains for chocolate :) ). So the grass is still green ... at least for some of us.

    A more general case of that unconditionally green grass is provided by recent Obama's administration huge additional investment in science (often doubling existing budgets) in these truly difficult times elsewhere, not in order to compensate for any essential job loss like in finance/industry, but as a pure gift of nature, without any particular progress being seen in science in the last years. So, one “severely” asks for efficiency from Western financial and business elite (poor guys should even refuse their usual multimillion bonuses :) ), but in science in the same “developed” countries one can easily double one's already nice income without providing any promised result at all, and this even in a catastrophic crisis time! It remains only to wonder why the well-known over-production of scientific professions is not even greater than it is, with such exceptional rules of the game for this particularly important activity! By contrast, there is no wonder that there is no progress in problem solution in science, with such rules of the game!

    P.S. By the way, Bee, where's the promised more detailed account from the German physics gathering in Dresden, another point of your European tour? Was it finally that dull? :) See how strange it happens to be. It almost looks like the “green-grass” part of scientists should now accept an additional “journalistic” function for the rest of us, more “grass-rooted” to their job places, because otherwise this less happy majority will never know any first-hand, professionally tailored news from real science events, irrespective of personal results or abilities. Such are today's rules of the game called science...

    Oh yeah, the grass was greener, once...

  6. Giotis said: “I envy you Bee. You get to visit all these cool places around the world for free.”

    Apart from envy, I would support and even generalise this impression to all those people from all those “cool” places of science (those particularly “advanced” institutes, you know, according to a self-estimate :) ) who have those exceptional, practically unconditional opportunities to have all their pleasures, in science and life and travel through world's best places. Why I would not envy them it's because the main element is essentially missing in all those paradise pleasures, real science progress as demonstrated uniquely by explicit, provably consistent problem solutions (as opposed to uncountable “promising attempts” of problem solution). So it's actually not for free, Giotis (as anything else, alas): one should obey to the current, very strictly imposed “scientific fashion” and “acceptable” results and never try to really exceed their “officially best” limits. I would rather envy another world where explicit science creativity and resulting permanent progress (in problem solution) would be natural rules of intellectual activity, without any senseless “citation numbers” and “self-organised” peer-review trickery (with stagnating and growing problems). No chance with this world, unfortunately.

    Again without anything personal, just taking it as an example among many others, if you follow the cited link of Bee's presentation in question, do you honestly have an impression that this or any other piece of that kind of endeavour, with its infinite number of purely abstract and heavily reduced “models” and “hidden dimensions” and other postulated miracles and “rules”, can ever be efficient for any progress of our understanding of unreduced, tangible reality? Problems we have are deep and “omnipresent” (like what is gravity, time, mass, dark matter...), but those abstract “insights” thus uniquely (very selectively!) supported in “our best places” are fundamentally “small”, incremental, even if they could turn out to be true (but they never do). The qualitative contrast between the two is evident and fundamental. Why does then that provably useless show continue infinitely as our (unprovable) unique way of doing science? Is it because people involved had a happy idea to call their activity “advanced”? :)

    There was (and is) that famous Princeton “advanced” establishment at the origin, but even there no essential science progress has ever been attained (starting from Einstein's infamous “unification” efforts!). It's just such a “nice company of nice people having nice time” and thinking they are “advanced” (while society supporting their “advanced” pleasures is excluded from any decision-making estimate of the result accessible only to ... the “advanced” beneficiaries themselves!). And then those particularly “advanced” places start multiplying themselves everywhere without limits and any relation between promises and results obtained, for decades of otherwise very rapid progress of purely empirical technology elsewhere, irrespective of absent “advanced” science results. It could be considered as a “purely intellectual decoration” of already very prosperous society that just wants it to be there, like stars in the sky. Thank you for being born, so to say, and ask us any prize you wish for it. Strange, but it works increasingly well, and even in a world severely hit by unprecedented crisis, uncountable millions are distributed in exchange to extraordinary possibility to have no progress in real, often quite urgent problem solution replaced by particularly awkward and irreducibly blind belief in yet purely abstract but already safely hidden dimensions, particle species and universes... They call it “mathematical reality”, the thoroughly selected dwellers of “advanced” institutes however asking in exchange for quite tangible and nice material support... Well, after all, if this world accepts this kind of fruitless science practice, despite all its burning problems, why not? And even if as a result of this absurd activity in a really practically important direction this world will finally collapse, this is also it's sacred right and chosen destiny, after all. And after all, one still doesn't know why there should ever be something instead of nothing, anywhere. Maybe it's just such shadowy fluctuations of nothing?! That could explain many otherwise strange things :) ...

    Anyway, Bee, just don't be discouraged by my somewhat melancholic (Monday) estimates in your open and vivid description of your magic adventures in the world of science after the end of science! If there can be no true progress, there can be at least a true description of genuine degradation one inevitably gets instead! It's already more fun, after all. Even though the resulting destruction has recently become much more explicit, who knows how long it will continue until the final collapse? It's especially important to avoid boredom before it because after it the ultimate boredom is guaranteed :) ...

  7. The snow is gone this week, and we are expecting a nice +8C this afternoon.

  8. @Thomas


    I never experienced staying that so cold places..

    I hope someday...


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