It’s the End of the World and This Physicist Feels Fine


It’s week three of COVID lockdown here in Germany. Schools are closed, my institute is closed, my husband’s workplace is also closed. Half of the shops in the city are closed. Everything, it seems, has been canceled. Playgrounds are deserted. The police are cruising the streets to prevent people from gathering outside. It’s eerie.

Sabine Hossenfelder | NAUTILUS

I promise I have no intention to propose a quantum-model for disease spread, but like everyone else I have been wondering if I can make myself somewhat more useful in these difficult times. Screengrab via Sabine Hossenfelder / YouTube

Work continues, but it’s different. Meetings are now teleconferences. Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Google Hangout—we are getting used to it. I am a theoretical physicist at a research institute; I don’t do lab work and I don’t teach, so for me remote communication is mostly an inconvenience, not a real problem. But the pandemic caught me in the midst of organizing a workshop. We had to cancel reservations, apologize to our sponsors, inform participants their travel plans are now nil, and postpone the meeting to a so-far unknown future date. The same has happened, for all I can tell, with all other workshops and conferences in my field, up until the summer, at least.

My biggest headache, however, has so far been that the library access on my laptop didn’t work, yet I couldn’t drop off the computer with IT to fix the problem—no one’s in their office. I eventually managed to fix it myself.

An unforeseen side-effect of our self-isolation has been that I produced a music video.

As you may guess, working from home with the kids around does not aid my productivity. In that, I am in the same position as many of my colleagues who have families to attend to. References to Issac Newton inventing calculus during the plague lockdown just have us roll our eyes. Newton was single and childless; he didn’t have to feed, wash, educate, and entertain offspring next to writing a scientific masterpiece. I’ll be happy if my productivity does not decrease.

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