Professor Moore

Fachschaft: Would you like to tell us about your scientific career?

Moore: I was a high school student in Colorado and grew up in Colorado. I did my undergraduate at a small science and technology college in California called Harvey Mudd College finishing in 1992. Then I was a graduate student in physics at Princeton University until 1997. I wrote my Ph.D. with Niel Turok as my adviser, spent 2 years as a postdoc at McGill University and 3 years as a postdoc at the University of Washington and Seattle until 2002. Then I was hired as an assistant professor, which is I guess the equivalent to junior professor, by McGill University again, back in Montreal. And I was promoted to associate professor in 2008 and full professor in 2013. I spent 2008/2009 as a sabbatical leave 8 months in Bielefeld as a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel-Preisträger and then 4 months in Madrid Universidad Autónoma. Then in 2015 I was hired by TU Darmstadt as a professor.

Fachschaft: Can you please explain your field of research, so it can be understood by a first year student?

Moore: I study a theory called quantum chromodynamics, which is a theory that underlies what holds together the atomic nucleus and the protons and neutrons which make up the atomic nucleus. I am particularly interested in what happens in this theory, when you smash together or heat the particles in the nucleus, or the ones that nuclei are made of, to very high energies and densities. There then can be complicated collective behaviors when they all interact with each other. This is relevant for understanding the physics in the very early universe, which might have signatures for instance in the dark matter or in the microwave sky background. So it may leave observable relics today and also is directly experimentally addressable by heavy ion collisions. There is a program about that going on at CERN and at Brookhaven National Labs in New York and an ongoing development of such a program here in Darmstadt at the GSI. I work on the theoretical side of that trying to understand how this matter should behave and what signatures it should have. I would say a fair proportion, like maybe one third of my work has been on applications in cosmology.

Fachschaft: What was your motivation to go into that field?

Moore: I think that most people shift around a little bit on what they are working on or on the course of their career, both within science and within the industry. That kind of thing always happens. So when I did my graduate studies working with Niel Turok, I was working on the physics of the very early universe about the first 10-11 seconds. At that time the universe was so hot that all of the particles that we know were all rushing around in extremely high density in a way, which allows the conservation of matter to be violated, and there was the question: So if the conservation of matter was violated why wasn’t the amount of matter set to zero at that time, how did it end up that there is more matter than antimatter in the universe? My graduate work was on a larger theme called electroweak baryogenesis. Basically around the end of the 1990s we realized that this didn’t really work and that everything that we could easily calculate and learn about had been done and that the interesting questions all required that we know, whether there is physics beyond the standard model that we were fairly sure about at that time. And it stopped being that interesting to work on. But for the same set of techniques and methodologies there were fairly close related questions and it was sort of natural for me to then slide over into the direction of trying to understand nuclear matter. Because the equations that it satisfies are very similar, a lot of techniques that we had learned about and developed could be applied and let us get at things which people working in that field had not been able to do, because they hadn’t developed the same set of methodology.

Fachschaft: What were your favorite subjects in school?

Moore: It was clear that I was curious about mathematics and science, I think maybe from the time I was eleven to twelve. I liked chemistry, I liked physics, I had natural talent in mathematics. How it centered on physics? I guess I found the questions in physics more profound somehow. If you understand physics well enough you should be able to figure out what happens in chemistry. It doesn’t really actually work that way. It seemed like more the thing that is trying to get at what is the nature of nature. That’s just very interesting to me and so I think already by the time I was maybe 16 I knew that this was the right direction. But you should always be careful and make sure that you are not missing something. So I actually very deliberately made an effort to try working in mathematics and to try working in experimental physics as an undergraduate, to see if maybe that was what I was more interested in after all and also to try working in theoretical physics. And my experience showed me that theoretical physics was the right one. Mathematics was to dry somehow, not tightly enough connected to reality. And experiment I didn’t enjoy enough, I didn’t like playing with the tools somehow. Maybe I also wasn’t terribly good at it. So that was clear.

Fachschaft: Why did you come to Germany?

Moore: It’s a complicated question. It’s a good question. I thought there were interesting opportunities here and although I was perfectly happy with the university where I was, McGill, the direction that things were going in the province of Quebec and the direction that funding was going in didn’t look very good there. And there are a lot of very strange political tensions there about language. So in Germany there’s an attitude that language is something you use to communicate with people, and if it’s easier to speak with somebody in English then you switch to English. And if everyone is comfortable with German, you speak in German. And in Quebec the issue what language you would speak with somebody was always somehow a political issue. The fact that you would speak English with somebody was some kind of a political statement that you were subverting to their power or something. There was this whole extra layer on top there that I just didn’t like and didn’t appreciate. And my wife is German and I speak in German at home, not exclusively but a lot. So at some point I decided, maybe I should think about moving and I looked for jobs in the United States and elsewhere in Canada and in Germany. And this was the first real interesting job that I could see myself in that I found. Academics as a rule don’t decide where they will live. They go where they can manage to find something. And then if they turn out not to be completely happy with that, then they can look, but they don’t necessarily get to choose where else there’s interest in them. You can’t say I want to live in Chicago or I want to live in Frankfurt and then think that you can get a job there. You have to cast your network a little wider.

Fachschaft: Can you tell us what you like about Darmstadt?

Moore: I’m actually really happy with Darmstadt. I think it’s really nice that the university is in the middle of the town and right next to this big park. I find that very attractive. I think it’s a nice size of a town, and it’s not that you’re lost in a huge city, but you’re also not in the middle of nowhere. And I like that it’s very close to the Bergstraße, which I find is a very interesting region to visit. It’s somehow a little culturally interesting.

Fachschaft: In the current semester you are teaching the "Theoretische Physik I". Do you remember your first semester at university? What were your biggest struggles?

Moore: I didn’t have a lot of struggles as a university student. I mean maybe the typically social struggles that people at that age all have. You find out who you are and you deal with other people ... But in terms of course work and learning I didn’t really have any struggles. But that came in graduate school.

Fachschaft: And do you have any tips for the first year students here?

Moore: Well besides the obvious things, like work hard and read in the book and don’t forget to take a little personal time, get a little exercise. I think one of the most important things is really talking to and working with the other students, trying to be a community not just in your private things, but also in your studying. Learning from each other, asking each other questions and helping each other with answers. I think it’s very valuable.

Fachschaft: And what are you especially expecting from students, who want to join your group?

Moore: Well they have to have enthusiasm, but also I think you just have to have a high level of technical competence, you have to be quick at learning things and you have to be ready to show some independence and try to find things out yourself. So there is a series of shifts that you have to make as you advance in your academic path and in your career. And between Gymnasium and Universität the shift is that you have to learn to be fully responsible for your own studying and your

own learning. And then between being an university student and being a graduate student you have to develop a great deal of independence and have to get comfortable with working on things where the answer isn’t known. And you have to be going out trying to find out what do people know. It’s not all in a book. You have to search through literature, which is much more complicated to search through, and talk to people and you also have to try to do things that haven’t been done and show a certain flexibility and maybe start coming up with your own ideas on what you need to work on. And then there’s the jump between that graduate experience and being a post-doc where you have to learn to be the one coming up with the questions and figuring out which problem should be solved.

Fachschaft: How much free time do you have besides your work at the university?

Moore: Enough.

Fachschaft: And what are you doing in your free time?

Moore: Not Enough. I like to take long walks in the hills. I like to read. I used to play Cello, but I’m out of practice. Having friends over, visiting cities.

Fachschaft: What’s your favorite book and do you only read physics books?

Moore: I don’t only read physics books. I’m more of a non-fiction person. I like an interesting history book. I was really struck by two books fairly recently. They were called 1491 and 1493. The first one was about the history and social structure of the communities in the New World before European contact and how complicated it was, how much it was changing: the warfare, the social structure. And the other one was about how other parts of the world were affected by the discovery of America. I found these books very interesting. I like that kind of history, social, but also kind of thought-provoking.

Fachschaft: And let’s end with a classic question: Imagine that you were banned to a deserted island and you could only bring three items with you. What would you take?

Moore: There’s always the question: Would I need to bring something else to survive

or should I imagine, that everything is going to be okay, once I’m there.

Fachschaft: Let’s say there is food.

Moore: So there is magically food. I really have no idea. I’m not super attached to things.

Fachschaft: Thank you very much for your time!

Das Interview führten Elisa Steinrücken und Robin Weiße im Mai 2017.


Fachschaft Physik

Hochschulstraße 12
64289 Darmstadt

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Im Sommersemester 2022 finden die Sitzungen dienstags um 17:15 Uhr statt.

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