Be yourself by pretending to be a physicist!

Holograms For Physicists #2

Denver Street Art Along Cherry Creek entitle ‘Invisible Wisdom’ by @mari.shibuya and @ashleyjosephine

If you could imagine doing anything in the world, what would it be? Really. Think about that. No limits.

I’d be a theoretical physicist by way of making augmented reality for experimental physicists. Here is some foreshadowing…

I’m trying to understand transverse momentum on my way back from a NASA event.

I don’t know how to bridge from that visualization to why I want to be a theoretical physicist so I’ll just keep rambling. I want to because back when I waited tables and was failing Spanish class for the 4th time I’d just stay up and read about science. I’d miss exams trying to calculate the distance of Mars from Earth or wrapping my head around quantum entanglement. I don’t regret that!

I was doing great in physics and terrible in everything else. But here is the sad thing: my physics class required no math. It was conceptual — so I was not a prodigy. I was just curious and in a class that a middle school student could audit.

I asked my professor how I could take the next physics course and he replied, “How is your calculus?”

“What is calculus?” I asked.

His response was that I may have missed the boat on STEM. Can you blame him? I don’t, haha! Determined to prove him I marched to the math placement center and was placed in remedial math — or about a 5th grade level. I was about 22. That was humiliating. But not as humiliating as letting life dictate the outcome of my life — which I was NOT about to do!

So I did what anyone would do — I saved my money and enrolled in Pre-Algebra. I got an A! Yes! In 2009, at age 24, I decided I would become a theoretical physicist at the Center for European Nuclear Research (CERN) because they were doing the most exciting things in the world, such as accelerating particles. Seriously, I even learned french so would be a more competitive candidate. I give you permission to laugh, haha! How could anyone take that seriously?

For the next few years I worked my way through Calculus 2, ending with a B-. Then I got accepted to UC San Diego for Computational Physics. I guess that professor was wrong, at least about STEM.

My first semester, at age 29, I had an interesting conversation with a brilliant physics undergraduate from UC Berkeley. The only job he could find upon graduating was for about $12 an hour in lab. I got a C in my electromagnetism course and a C- in multi-variable calculus. I knew I had the persistence to graduate but the best I could do would be to get a job in a lab making less than I had as a waiter. I was thinking about starting a family — not moving back in with mom and dad in order to save for graduate school.

On top of that, I’d had countless informational interviews with physicists and realized how competitive it was just to get into graduate school for physics let alone work at a place like CERN. It was that same week that I first encountered something called Augmented Reality (yeah — that Pokemon go thing…). It was as beautiful as physics. I knew right away that CERN needed it. If I could make interfaces for particle physics then I’d be required to talk to the brightest physicists everyday. That type of access is something a lot of far more competent aspiring physicists would never achieve.

My new job was not to go to graduate school but learn to design augmented reality software applications. I cross checked this idea against the Bureau of Labor Statistics for graphic design and it turned out that there was a huge demand for UX/UI people — and virtually no one in augmented reality. I had zero competition.

It dawned on me — I could just move to San Francisco and learn it all up there and then just start building them for fun and hack my way into a ‘scientist’ title. I switched my major to Cognitive Science, grabbed an internship on Folsom st, and got a job at a start up upon graduation.

At my first startup job, augmented reality was not a priority to senior management. I couldn’t understand why. But neither was keeping track of the company blog, a task everyone else seemed to have no interest in volunteering on — so as long as I provided content — and got my GeoSpatial Interfaces turned in on JIRA, I could write what ever I wanted! And I took advantage of that!

That got picked up by Meta Augmented Reality — who offered me a job as an Augmented Reality Prototyper. Then — I get a job offer as an Engineer Scientist to study augmented reality in energy sector applications!

I’ve been ignoring Physics now for 6 years. It has been tough. And now it is time to start what I’d set off to do: peer into the thought processes of the world’s brightest minds.

How will I do this? If you recall from my last article, I’m spending 30 minutes a day on 7 activities. The first activity was to get a understanding of what CERN will be doing in 2021 — since that should give me enough time to teach myself some quantum mechanics and more math. Finding out where they are headed helps me know what type of interface to build.

What is there to do at CERN?

First, see for yourself a sample of what they are doing:

I found out they have two areas that are important to me:

  1. Experiments (Proton beams and other stuff)
  2. Theoretical Physics

Now, call me crazy — and I’m sure you already are — but I’m not going to be given a job in the theoretical physics department unless I am pretty good at it and you have seen my grades. So — for the next decade, I’m gonna have to make some augmented reality interfaces for the experiment folks. Do they know I’m gonna make them? No. That part doesn’t actually matter too much. We’ll get there : ). But knowing a little bit about the theoretical department helps me chart a course in the experimental department. Some of those theoretical folks are writing about finding these versions of particles that may imply there are more spatial dimensions, Z or W Bosons. The original Boson helps physicists sleep better at night because it brings credence to something called the standard model — a framework of predicting how all those little pieces of an atom are gonna behave. There was also some mention of super symmetry — which I haven’t the foggiest idea about, yet. Remember, my day job is to study augmented reality interfaces for energy applications — not spend every waking moment in a library. I just like the extra spatial dimensions so I tuck that away in my mind. Now not all of the experiments I found seem like they will be active in 2 years.

After looking at all the experiments at CERN, I picked out the following two experiments to investigate further, that may still be going on. I don’t know. I’ll forgo emailing CERN to ask since that is putting the cart before the horse.



The bulk of my focus…

It became readily apparent that following general activities will be indispensable to becoming a successful augmented reality designer for CERN.

High Luminosity


Arts at CERN

Now, one of the biggest efforts underway in Geneva (where CERN resides) is upgrading the 27 kilometer particle accelerator to be more powerful and sensitive. Did they sign it up for gym memberships and therapy sessions? No. They are doing a lot of other activities. I will report back on these!

Let’s Pause

I’ve found a huge hole in my logic. For the past 8 years — my modus operandi has been goal oriented — and boy have I had some dumb luck! But, after reading a book — yes, I can read — called ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’, I’ve realized I need a system and not a goal. Scott Adams defines a goal as one singular thing that we WANT to do and a system as lots of smaller things we DECIDE to do that increase our probability of achieving an optimal outcome regardless if it leads to realizing our goal.

So I’m replacing the seventh activity on my original list. Number seven was to draw holograms all over Geneva for fun. I’m still doing that — but it is a one time thing. Not really a repeatable activity. So — that will now be replaced by spending time thinking about how to make Holograms for physicists all over the world — not just Geneva. Geneva will be my reference material — since they are the gold standard — but I’m not picky about where I make the grams.

How to make Holograms for Physicists

  1. Determine if AEGIS and AMS will still be researching in 2021. If not, focus on CMS.
  2. Get a) a basic understanding of quantum mechanics and b) read a recent paper with accelerator experimental results
  3. Sketch a concepts with augmented reality.
  4. Ask a physicist for feedback on the hologram. Interview them. Post that online.
  5. Build an updated version in blender and A-Frame.
  6. Find a map of all the physics activities and follow the interesting ones on Instagram.

Next Step

I’m skipping to the fun part: #2 and 3! I gotta quit with the strategy and just give into impulse next week! By November 9th, I will have posted new article and 3 videos on instagram relating to something in quantum mechanics, an equation, and a finding in a paper.

Remember folks, be yourself! Anyone who disagrees is probably afraid to do that for their self. If you got a dream, you can do it! I certainly am going too.

Micah Tinklepaugh

Random links….


General particle experiments across the world:

CERN Budget since 2006: