Nomura Reading Course


Today I sat in on Yasunori Nomura‘s summer reading course (a continuation from this past spring semester). For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, reading courses–which aren’t necessarily officially credited–are courses, is the American Idol/Star Search/Survivor gauntlet that theory graduate students must go through to “prove themselves” to potential advisors. Unlike other sciences and even experimental branches of physics, beginning theory graduate students are still a couple of years of advanced coursework away from being useful in research. On the other hand, biologists can pluck freshmen out of class to hold pipettes and do something useful in lab.

At Berkeley, this is somewhat exacerbated because their graduate admissions process is specialty-blind. Because of the size of its department, students (apparently) self-sort themselves into research groups. As it stands, however, of the 39 incoming graduate students in 2006 (including deferrals such as myself), 17 have expressed an interest in particle theory. To parse students, professors arrange for reading courses where students can prove themselves worthy of [very limited] departmental funding doing theoretical physics.

Theory professors all ‘seem to have their own style in terms of how reading courses are managed. Professor Nomura’s course is organized as a small seminar group where students take turns presenting parts of review articles. Today Badr Albanna, who is also the GSI (“TA” for non-Berkeley folk) for the summer Quantum Mechanics course that I’m reading (“grading”), presented a review of the Higgs mechanism in the Standard Model.

On an aside, Professor Nomura explained something that hadn’t occured to me before: One can write down a SU(3)-Color x SU(2)-Left x SU(2)-Right x U(1)-X, and then spontaneously break SU(2)-Right x U(1)-X to U(1)-Y and ‘recover’ the usual Standard Model SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1). ((For those not familiar with the notation, those funny ‘SU’ and ‘U’ things are continuous symmetry groups refer to rotations in an abstract internal space.)) As it turns out, SU(3)xSU(2)xSU(2)xU(1) is the maximum rank subgroup of SO(10). Kinda nifty!

The course looks really promising and I think I’ll be able to get a lot out of it.

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