This I believe

A few years ago, National Public Radio revived a series that allowed people explain their passions and their fundamental beliefs. It is called This I believe. I really enjoyed the different testimonials, in particular some of the other research- and science-oriented ones, for example this one on the power of the unknown.
This I believe:
I believe in science and the scientific method. I believe in studying nature and learning about the world through experiencing and experimenting.
While growing up on a farm in Germany, I was always curious to find out what things were made of. My sisters used to complain that I would always take things apart, especially electronic equipment. I learned about Physics in 5th grade, and I had a great teacher who made the students experience the world themselves. He gave us homework problems in electricity, using a battery, some wires, a flashlight bulb, and switches made from file folders. It was a lot of fun to hook up different circuits and see the bulb light up (or not light up) at different times. Ever since then I've been an experimentalist.
In high school we read Goethe's Faust, and on the first page of the book, Faust says that his goal is
herauszufinden was die Welt
im Innersten zusammenhält
(to perceive whatever holds
the world together in its inmost folds).

I was struck by how beautifully this explains physics and the quest to understand the origin of matter. I was driven to learn more about nature and what is behind the things we see everyday and those that we hear about (like black holes or nuclear energy). I enjoyed the challenge by those ideas that didn't seem to make much sense at first (like the uncertainty principle or quarks and leptons). I was eager to learn more, and have been ever since.

Physics fascinates me exactly because it is this pursuit of the inmost folds. I love the idea of exploring the most fundamental principles of nature, learning about the basic particles and forces, figuring out what happened at the very beginning of the universe. I also love speculating about what could be, what other force there might be in play, what new particles we might find that cast the universe in yet a different light. But I realize that speculation isn't the same as actually measuring something, so I am always up for surprises and ready to move on to explore new domains.
At the same time, I believe in the ultimate experimental basis for physics. I don't believe anything that we haven't shown to be correct through experiments. I'm not really interested in theories that don't make any predictions related to current or past experiments.

See also my MSU faculty voice article.
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