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I'm a budding biologist and aspiring entrepreneur. I've wanted to cure aging since I was eight. Now, with support from Peter Thiel's 20 Under 20 program, I'll be in Silicon Valley for the next two years developing ways to commercialize anti-aging research and extend the human healthspan. We'll see where this adventure takes me, but I'll try to chronicle the journey on this blog, What a Wonderful World. It'll be a mix of real-life updates and vignettes about the wonders of science. Shoot me an email at ldeming[dot]www[at]gmail.com

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Maxwell's Laws and Gratitude


Time to wax poetic about a new scientific beauty:

Maxwell’s laws.

You’ve heard of them. They are a set of four fundamental principles. They link up electricity and magnetism. And they are a few of my favorite equations. Feynman explains them far better than I can. But I’ll try to explain why I think they’re incredibly cool.

It’s best to learn them after you learn how to ‘see’ math equations. Which takes a bit of multivariable calculus. But after that, you can turn equations into mental artwork.

The equations are math ‘workers’. Feed them a picture of an electric field, and they’ll craft a magnetic counterpart. Feed them the right electric field, and light pops out.

They illustrate a symmetry. A wonderful, fundamental symmetry between two fundamental forces. (Well, almost. It would be perfect if we could find elusive physical phenomena termed ‘magnetic monopoles’. But more on that another time.)

Maxwell’s equations are elemental. They’re powerful. They underlie every bit of tech we’ve created. But they’re short, simple and beautiful, in a funny physics way. I think they’re our equivalent of ‘magic’. Learn to manipulate them, and you’ve mastered a fundamental force.

Maxwell’s equations sum up an entire field of physics. Imagine the intellect it took to condense them. I’d love to spend a day with Maxwell, Faraday, and Tesla. What would the world be like if we’d known how to extend the human healthspan while they were alive?

While we’re on the topic of formidable intellects, this is a great chance to say thanks. Thank you to the mentors who’ve done so much to help me get where I am now.

Thank you Cynthia Kenyon and Jasper Rine for introducing me to biology. Every time I get excited about glowing cells, or Mendel’s tragic tale, I think of you.

Thank you Wes Beach, and MIT, for a wonderful two years in college. And thank you Adrian Slusarczyk, for an incredible lab mentorship.

Thank you family, for the loving support. And thank you Peter Thiel and the 20under20 foundation.

Science is too cool. Maybe I should be a physicist.  

Laura

17 comments:

  1. Though you started your blog, I have to say it is very inspiring. I agree, Maxwell's equations are beautiful and so is the rest of math or science.
    I read you did some research on biogerontology (which, next to physics, I really adore). If it all works out, I look forward towards dedicating my life to science and math and applying that knowledge to cure the world's problems.

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  2. Any sufficiently succinct science is indistinguishable from magic?

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  3. The story of Maxwell's equations is only alluring because we look at them as coming into existence in a moment in time. It took some 20 odd years before an outsider--who bears a strange semblance to Wolverine--to come along and turn them into something easily comprehensible.

    Today the process is a matter of sophomoric transformation--Laplace anyone? There is no doubt that Maxwell was brilliant--but we put these people on a pedestal and we fixate on them with a looking-glass that is focused with our imagination. In the end they are just like us, and in turn our peers are just like their's--and we will build each other up.

    Sometimes all you need is a little bit of luck, a clean canvas, some giants to stand on, and hope -- and then in a flash, there is an apercu moment in which the clouds part, the earth shifts, and all becomes clear, and innovation happens. But Peter Thiel already knows that.

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  4. I saw you on TV yesterday--the first I had heard of the 20 under 20 program--and I'm so glad they featured you, as your goal is wonderful and impressive. I'm an activist to make the world a better place. My focus is nutritionally dense foods, basically raw vegan, which improves health, keeps people lean and helps non-young people to look and feel younger than they are.

    I applaud your efforts and wish you lots of good luck!

    Judy Pokras
    editor/founder
    RawFoodsNewsMagazine.com

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  5. What a Wonderful Girl!
    Hi, Laura, it's an amazing blog and an amazing scientific adventure!
    It seems to me that nature and chance provided you with a lot of excellent tools (scientific environment in childhood, a very hight intelligence, MIT, be born at the right time and Peter Thiel support) to you pursui one of the most ancient and profound desires of human nature. If you don't achieve your goal (but I think you have great chances), you will at least make very admirable things and your life will become a beautiful and inspiring chapter in the Book of Humanity and its struggle for life! (I would say, alongside stories like that of Spartacus -- the choice for life!)
    I'm rooting for you! (or I'll also be dead after many decades of slow pain)
    Cheers,
    Cesar Cassini

    http://fabulosofuturo.blogspot.com

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  6. Physics is cool but somewhat stuck. Please stay focused on the anti-aging, I'll be needing it soon enough. :/

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  7. I'm sure this gal can do both:)
    Hope to see more galz and guyz like her! These people may one day save us all.

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  8. "Any self-respecting book on optics is obliged to include Maxwell’s equations, which are the complete relativistic description of the electromagnetic field in vacuo and are the basis on which all optical instruments function. They are also useful for printing on T-shirts. Fortunately, this is a book of practical lore, and since Maxwell’s equations are
    almost never used in real design work . . ."
    --Building Electro-Optical Systems

    If you want to have some fun with h+ oriented optics in SF, look us up sometime:

    matt [at] 3scan.com

    Also . . . congrats!

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  9. I found you via google. Congratulations on being one of the chosen few. I'm looking forward to some future physics lessons in four wheel drive dynamics... Maybe you can assist me in the evolution thing...

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. Hey!

    I saw you with Peter Thiel the other day and you're amazing!

    I'm currently a CPA specializing in taxation but will soon be returning to school for a Ph.D in biophysics to work with you.

    Here's the name of the research company I want to start, "Perfect Chain-Free Eternal Youthful Love Research Inc." You think it's too long?

    Well best of luck,

    Haris

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  12. Laura!!!!
    You are amazing and I miss you, but you are obviously experiencing amazing opportunities and getting closer to your goals and dreams everyday. I think of you all of the time and I hope everything is going well. I would love to hear more!
    <3!Bahar

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  13. "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."

    Dangerous thoughts no? Are we better off with people like this out of the way, muddying the water?

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  14. You've embarked on an incredible journey that is full of obstacles, but please remember that failure is simply a step you have to take before achieving success: don't get discouraged by what other people think: yours is a truly inspiring adventure. Thank you.

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  15. You seem to be a wonderful and intelligent person. But one thing perhaps worth thinking about-- while Tesla or Faraday could have contributed so much more with more time, what about a Hitler or Stalin? Don't ever forget that until the societal structure IN WHICH you do your science changes, you may end up feeling the deepest regrets of the Manhattan Project visionaries, something which will haunt you unto your old age. But please don't let that stop you, just.... think about it as you continue on your path fearlessly. Good luck!!

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  16. It's interesting to note that "Maxwell's equations" weren't actually written by Maxwell. They were adapted from his original work by Oliver Heaviside, who some say over simplified them for the sake of elegance:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell's_equations#The_term_Maxwell.27s_equations

    Heaviside eliminated the vector component of the equations which fringe physicists believe linked gravity to electromagnetism through the "ether".

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  17. Albert Einstein called her the most “significant” and “creative” female mathematician of all time, and others of her contemporaries were inclined to drop the modification by sex. She invented a theorem that united with magisterial concision two conceptual pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Some consider Noether’s theorem, as it is now called, as important as Einstein’s theory of relativity,

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