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Interview Simon White - Navigation

Page 1: The Millennium-Simulations
Page 2: Dark Energy & Mikrowave Background
Page 3: Gravitational Waves
Page 4: A Life In Science

Deutsche Version




Drillingsraum: For now, let's leave philosophy and theory behind us and get to the life here at the science centres. Most of the Ph. D. students here participate in the International Max Planck Research School, short IMPRS. What are the characteristics of that program and who should make use of it?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: The number of students in the institutions participating in this program increased by a factor of two or three, and it greatly internationalized the student body. The fraction of non-german students increased dramatically. It also increased the coherence: When you have a large number of students you have to set up uniform standards by how people are treated, the way their progress is monitored or which courses they need to take. So IMPRS sets up rules to try and make sure that everyone gets the best experiences possible in

graduate school. Thus IMPRS gets rid of disparities that can occur in the older system in which each student was effectively under control of the supervisor and there was rather little communication between different groups. So, it

"IMPRS connects the
institutions better with
the international

uniforms things. In practice it connects the institutions better to the rest of the international world, because of course these students graduate and often get postdoctoral or other positions in their home countries. Therefore you get international research links. Large projects are all international, so the international connections are very important. I think this is essentially what pushes forefront science forward.

Drillingsraum: Here in Garching we have the MPA, the MPE, the European Southern Observatory and the Universe Cluster Building. How intense is this high density of astrophysical facilities being used by the scientists for knowledge exchange?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: There are joint projects between all of these institutions, but each one of them is large enough to have its own dynamic. If individual institutions become too large they tend to break up into groups. There is always some effort needed to get collaborations on scales larger than a natural collaborate unit. Mechanisms like the IMPRS help: Even though all the students are part of a single body, they have meetings in the different institutions where they can discuss their projects, complain about their supervisors, plan trips together, whatever. So, this helps with the interaction. In the end people have to want to collaborate. They have to see the other institutions, because maybe the research groups there can offer something for the problems they are self interested in. Then collaborations arise naturally.

Drillingsraum: You have worked at many different science centers in the world. How do you assess Garching as a research location for astrophysics?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: Oh, it is the best in the world.

Drillingsraum: Lets turn the clock back a few years. Did you already have specific fields of interests in astrophysics as an undergraduate?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: No, when I was an undergraduate I was interested in applied mathematics. Applied mathematics in Britain is what people go through in physics.

Drillingsraum: Was there an event which led you to say „I would like to become an astrophysicist“?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: Yes, that was when I went to graduate school. I was particularly interested in plasma physics, statistical physics and fluid mechanics. Thus I had two options in Cambridge: One was to do theoretical fluid mechanics, aerodynamics and this kind of things. There the students were in the building in the centre of Cambridge, in basement offices with no windows. The other option was astrophysics. The astrophysics centre was outside the town, and it was a building with a lot of windows. There also were trees and cows across the roads. So I thought astrophysics looked a little better. (laughs)

Drillingsraum: What advice would you give to a student, who is planning a career in astrophysics?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: I think you should follow your interests.

Drillingsraum: What does your current field of work beyond the Millennium-Simulations look like?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: I am still interested in the structure of galaxies and would like to understand what the dark matter is. I spent a career working on it. But we still haven't actually got our hands on it. I think you need to detect it somehow other than by its gravitational effects to be convinced that this is the correct explanation. So, I keep

"In Yosemite
I once woke up
and there was a bear
up the tree"

looking for other ways to detect it, trying to understand its properties in more details in order to help to find ways to look for it. And I am particularly interested in galaxies and how galaxies form, and in observational work belonging to this.

Drillingsraum: Let us imagine you are hiking through the wilderness. Far away from any streets, lights and semblance of civilisation. At night you are lying in your sleeping bag in front of your tent, gazing at that beautiful starry night sky. What thoughts go through your mind?

Prof. Dr. Simon White: Probably that it is very cold (laughs). Then I worry about whether there is a bear nearby, this did happen to me in Yosemite: I woke up and there was a bear up the tree.

Drillingsraum: That was it. Thank you a lot for this interview.

Prof. Dr. Simon White: That was great!

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