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October 31, 2014

Taiji Team photo day

As it was high time we took some team photos, we used yesterday’s brief, nice weather window to get some shots of the gang. Enclosed are some of them. Afterwards, a spectacular spread prepared by Patti was enjoyed by all. Thank you Patti, you are so talented.

Now, regarding the photographs, we know what you’re thinking: “If Nik is the photographer, how could he have taken the photographs AND been in the photos too?” The explanation is not simple and involves two abstract scientific models: Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the concept of “wormholes”.

A wormhole, officially known as an Einstein–Rosen bridge, is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that would fundamentally be a “shortcut” through spacetime. A wormhole is much like a tunnel with two ends each in separate points in spacetime. It is this “tunnel” that Nik travelled through in order to both “take” and “be in” the photograph.

For a simplified notion of a wormhole, visualize space as a two-dimensional (2D) surface. In this case, a wormhole can be pictured as a hole in that surface that leads into a 3D tube (the inside surface of a cylinder). This tube then re-emerges at another location on the 2D surface with a similar hole as the entrance. An actual wormhole would be analogous to this but with the spatial dimensions raised by one. For example, instead of circular holes on a 2D plane, a real wormhole’s mouths could be spheres in 3D space.

Researchers have no observational evidence for wormholes, but the equations of the theory of general relativity have valid solutions that contain wormholes. Because of its robust theoretical strength, a wormhole is one of the great physics metaphors for teaching general relativity. The first type of wormhole solution discovered was the Schwarzschild wormhole, which would be present in the Schwarzschild metric describing an eternal black hole, but it was found that this type of wormhole would collapse too quickly for anything to cross from one end to the other. Wormholes which could actually be crossed in both directions, known as traversable wormholes, would only be possible if exotic matter with negative energy density could be used to stabilize them.

You can ask Nik about his rather strange talent, but he’s reluctant to discuss it.

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