Episode 8: The Sea of Dirac with Ryan Haupt

In episode 8 my old friends Jocelyn Read and Fiona Burnell join me to talk about one of the stranger ideas to come from quantum mechanics: the Dirac Sea.  To help keep us in line and on time, we’ve invited Ryan Haupt of Science… Sort Of. ALGEBRAIC!

Note: There’s some Extra bits after the end music.  Jocelyn Sings a song, and then i try a sweet analogy which Ryan Haupt decides to shoot down even though he doesn’t even understand multivariable calculus! >:{


Guest:  Ryan Haupt

Physicists: Jocelyn Read, Fiona Burnell

Intro Music: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists 

Exit Music: John Vanderslice 

Transcript: Ep_8_The_Sea_Of_Dirac

7 thoughts on “Episode 8: The Sea of Dirac with Ryan Haupt

  1. Sometimes I can follow along with the topic. This show was not one of those times. I enjoy the show emensely, but I have to ask why is there a separation of the informative bits from the entertaining bits? In this episode Gamma Rays came up. I thought immediately of the Hulk. Obviously I am not alone as the song at the end clearly shows. But why was it moved to the end of the show? It’s a fun relate-able moment. And it would be a nice pause in the middle of the dense science for those of us struggling to keep up.

    • Hi matthew,
      pacing is always a tricky thing, and we do our best. This was a particularly challenging topic, and In order to make the show 1/2 hr long, i cut about 50 minutes of discussion. when time is tight, I generally try to cut any discussion which is not directly on topic. but I put the hulk song on the end because it’s great.
      thanks for listening, and for commenting.


  2. I too found Episode 8 somewhat hard to follow. Clearly quantum mechanics is the most difficult topic to find reasonable visual metaphors so it is understandable. A second listen (the advantage of recorded material!) really helps. Even on the second listen, however, you don’t seem to explain why the “free” electrons in graphene behave in a way consistent with the quantum mechanics explained by the “Dirac Sea”. The analog is both interesting and clearly useful (from a technology and applications perspective, but WHY does this happen? Is it an interesting coincidence (since it seems only to happen within some strict ranges of temperatures, if I heard correctly) or is there a deeper connection? Why would subatomic behaviors work similarly in “super-atomic” structure?

  3. This was a rough episode for me to follow- so I’m relieved by the other comments here that I may not be (quite) as slow as I feared. It took several listens (or, rather, immediate rewinds) to figure out the broader strokes, and I’m still not too clear on the details. Interesting subject, as always, but I wish I didn’t leave this episode quite so confused about it. For a positive spin, I have been googling my questions trying to figure it out, which means you’ve definitely inspired my curiosity.

    I do notice that the run-times on podcasts before this one pretty much stuck to the half-hour-and-change format, and afterwards they start getting over 40, and even hitting 67. I think that can only be a change for the better- subjects like this one feel like they need that extra time to really get covered.

    Anyway, despite my inability to keep up on this episode, I’m loving what I’m hearing from Titanium Physicists and can’t wait to listen to more.

    • Hi WM. thanks for your comment.I’m glad you like the show.

      so there are two things i’d like to reassure you about.

      first is with regards to your comment about not understanding everything we say in this episode. I’m afraid that this is the achilles heel of my podcast. The idea is that we’re going to present elegant ideas which are kind of… beyond the normal scope of public physics shows. but one problem is that physics is built up like a pyramid. each block is set on other blocks… and each block only gets set down when the blocks beneath it are set and solid. That’s why (in part) it takes several years to train a physicist.

      So the idea is that each show, we’re going to focus on a single metaphorical block. We discuss the underlying blocks, but make less of an effort to explain them. that way, if you are curious, you can look up the underlying blocks on the internet.

      One hope of mine is that, over time, I’ll be able to make shows which fill in each underlying block.
      But as it stands, we… we’re leaving you hanging. I’m sorry about that.

      this episode specifically is tricky, because we haven’t been focussing very much on quantum mechanics lately. I’m working on making some more quantum episodes in the near future.

      The thing about the running time is interesting. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I’ve found that I can only pay attention for 20~30 minutes. So I try to edit down the main content discussion to about 30 minutes (that’s the stuff between the music). Of course, as we talk to our fascinating guests, we talk about a wider variety of things, and often there are things I think are worth listening to. So As I edit the show, I throw those conversations after the “end” music. So that’s really what’s behind the increase in length.

      Thanks for enjoying our show, I hope you keep listening and tell your friends about it.


  4. I really really enjoyed this episode – it is difficult for me to find physics or chemistry related scientific podcast material which I find both informative and understandable, but this show seems to fit the bill. That being said, “I felt like I understood what was going on, and then graphene happened”.

    Looking at the above comments, I can see that there is a dilemma – you need more than 30 minutes to deliver the material, but explanations requiring long periods of time become increasingly hard to concentrate on (you mentioned 25 minutes – a similar number was quoted at me by one of my profs, and resonates strongly with personal experience). I wonder if perhaps taking a break from the harder stuff at about 20 or 25 minutes to play music or something (hear a full song maybe?) and then go at it for another 25 minutes might be worthwhile.

    Trying to find reliable research on this attention stuff is like pulling teeth, so I’m afraid I can’t offer anything other than what you might find googling around. Apparently “selective sustained attention” is the word of choice.

    Anyways I saw the other comments and mostly came here to say “wait, I understood and liked that episode!” and then I ended up telling you something you probably already knew so I’ll just leave it at thanks for doing this, love the physics! (do more condensed matter stuff. PLEASE!)

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