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Ask Joe Your Questions

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Joe’s profile.

He’s been to Hogwarts. He’s been to NASA. And he’s been to the lab. A lot. So what do you want to ask him?

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Q: Laurie

You’ve already accomplished so much through music, so what do you hope to accomplish through your work with physics? (Might I recommend discovering that magic exists for all of us Potter fans?)

A: Joe

Magic is just an explanation for inexplainable events. There are still many phenomenon even in science that could be considered ‘”magic.” What makes the brain think? What is the cause of gravity? Why is angular momentum always conserved in an atom? Why is the speed of light the same in all reference frames? Many of these questions cannot be answered with exact scientific proofs. There are certain axioms in physics that cannot be proved but are used in other proofs to accurately illustrate the mechanical workings of the Universe. Take Newton’s second law, (F=ma the relationship between a force, mass, and acceleration) for example. There is no rigorous proof of this relationship but it is taken to be a Universal truth from it we can derive the motion of almost any object. Magic is all around us in the Universe and it is the quest to figure out how Magic works, that is fundamental to science.

One of my favorite examples is in contemporary astronomy, where according to our calculations there must be in the Universe a large amount of undetectable matter, dark matter, to account for the observed gravitation forces. Dark matter is a magical place holder for something that is out there, and scientists (or you could call them wizards) right now are trying to figure out how that magic works.

It would be of great pleasure to me to work on one of these grand problems. However for the short term I am focused on completing my undergraduate research with Professor Chris Landee at Clark. I am studying the magnetic properties of new materials, organic-copper complexes – crystals – at near absolute zero temperatures. This work may have implications for superconducting technology.

Q: Barb L.

Just a comment- Wow Joe! I’m impressed!

Q: Lizzie

Who’s your favorite character in Harry Potter?

A: Joe

That is a great question. I of course have an affinity for Harry Potter because he has a punk rock mentality about his role in the wizarding world. He is a little bit of a rogue and can really stick it to the man. Remember Umbridge and Dumbledore’s Army? That was so punk rock.
As much as I like Harry Potter, I must say that Dumbledore is my favorite character. He always has the best and funniest lines, and is subtly the most powerful figure in the book. My favorite scenes in the books were always the last chapters where Dumbledore would casually and wittingly explain what had been going on for the whole book. He is cool. He has style, and he has an awesome weirdo brother.

Q: Nell

I LOVE your music. When will you play in Massachusetts?

A: Joe

Nell! Thanks! We are playing our 5th Annual Yule Ball Holiday Celebration at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA on December 20.
Details are at our website here

Q: Izzy

When did you start to think that “science is the new magic”? as you sometimes put it.

A: Joe

Great question! I guess it must have been sometime while I was studying history.
When learning the history of Western Civilization you see that science, as we know it, is a very recent development. From the dawn of humanity wisdom concerning medicinal plants, weather, was in control of local shamans who were experienced with the magic of nature. There was a direct association of knowledge about the Universe with magic, and science is ultimately knowledge about the Universe.

Much of what we know about chemistry came out of the experiments of alchemists during the late middle ages. Alchemists like Nicholas Flamel (a wizard you may know from HP) who tried to manipulate matter, were the first modern chemists.

Science is the new magic. It is how we explain the Universe.


Great answer! I can see how magic and science are connected throughout. the question always interested me. thanks for answering! Can’t wait till the yule ball!

Q: Kelley

What would you say to someone who was interested in science, but feels their inability to do math holds them from achieving a major in it?

A: Joe

I would say that this person should not worry too much about being unable to do math. Math can be learned, and in many areas of science the math used is minimal. One can be a successful macrobiologist using mostly simple methods of data analysis of quantitative experiments, which is mostly addition and multiplication and the occasional square root.

There are many unexplored areas of biology that can be investigated with simple methods. It is a wonderful field of study and does not require billions of dollars to build giant particle accelarators nor does it necessitate a strong math background compared to physics. Also there are a lot of biologists that get to travel around the world to looks at cool plants, animals, and fungi. I love looking at fungi actually. It is November in Massachusetts now and there are all sorts of edible mushrooms to look for.

Chemistry is great too. You’ll have to do some calculus eventually, but can get by with mostly just algebra and lots of memorization.

Calculus is not as scary as it sounds though. Just remember that when you do math in science usually it is a lot of the same type of calculation so you get a lot of practice at it, and it is not like math class where they try to teach as much math as possible and you don’t get enough time to work on a section that you want.

Q: Katie

Hi Joe! How did you become interested in Physics and what do you plan to do with it after you graduate?

A: Joe

I had taken two years of physics in high school because I liked it so much. However, I was still interested in pursuing paths in other areas of science. I originally was considering going into a molecular biology program, but when I took the intro to biology course at school I got discouraged because it was big class and it seemed like we were only scratching the surface of the material and blasting through it real fast without much discussion. Which, I guess makes sense, because it is such a broad field of study. However, when I took an intro physics course that same year I had an amazing professor and I got to spend a lot of time with particular problems examining the fundamental behavior of particles in the universe. I felt like I was working on an actual skill rather than memorizing a bunch of things, which seemed kind of pointless to me. If I was going to memorize a bunch of stuff I could do that on my own. But if I was going to spend money to be in school I’d want to develop a skill, and spend time working with other people on it, and that is what physics did for me.

Q: Gwen

Have you learned any ways to mix science and music? Like do you hum ” gryffindor rocks” when you do a lab? always wondered…. thanks!

A: Joe

Great question! Good to hear from you! It’s funny that you mention it. All summer I kept whistling the beginning to Beethoven’s 5th symphony all around the lab. I don’t know why, sometihng about the lab just made me think dun dun dun duuuuun. dun dun dun duuuuuuuuuuun. One of the guys in the lab I think started to get upset.
So that is one way to mix it.

After that Dick Feynman song, people have been saying that I should start a band about scientists. I guess that would be a good way to mix those two together.

Let me know if you think of any other good ways. They are two of my favorite things!

Q: Julian Gomez

I have wanted to be a Mechanical or Computer Engineer for about 4 years and I entered in to the Engineering Magnet Program at my school as well as the robotics program, so I’ve worked with engineering and physics first hand. However, I’ve also been making videos on YouTube for about 2 years and I have built a love for film and the YouTube community that I had never expected. Now I had to make the choice between my love for engineering and film, and I chose film.

Did you have a similar issue or did you always know you would study physics and music would always be a hobby for you?

-Julian “ItTakesII” Gomez

A: Joe

Great question! I know exactly how you feel! I took a year off after high school before I went to college so I could pursue the Potters project with my brother. Now I am almost done with school and in a position where I could go get a job working for someone else doing their work, go back to school and do someone else’s research or go on to pursue other artistic projects.

I always knew I wanted to go to school to get a degree in the sciences. But as I’ve been doing it, I feel like it’s almost more like science is my hobby and my artistic projects are what people really know me for. All and all, I am just an amateur physicist right now, but you could also call me a professional musician. I really enjoyed being in school for science while working on music at the same time in a non academic setting. I feel like it is much easier to pursue music in a non academic setting than it is to do science, unless you are an incredibly driven individual. I just thought it made sense for me to go to school for science, while simultaneously having a career in the arts.

My brother used to say “I never stopped listening to the advice they gave me when I was applying for college. They kept telling me to do a lot of stuff and be well rounded.” I sort of think like I am applying to college constantly. Gotta be well rounded.

However, my Classical Mechanics professor this year keeps telling me that in order to be successful at physics you can’t have a life.

So… we’ll see what the future brings.

Do what you love.

Julian Gomez:

Wow, thank you for the extensive reply! That’s great that you see things that way, and want to pursue your music carreer. Of course, because you studied Physics and are getting a degree in it, you’ll always have that there to fall back on if need be, and that is no light back-up you have. Thanks for the reply. I do feel very passionate about film and would love to work with anything relating to it, but that is something not like music in the respect that it is much more difficult to do well in the film industry if you do not study for it.

Funny thing is, I was listening to my iTunes and your song, “The Weapon” started playing, it sort of made sense. Much love.

Q: Dad DeGeorge

Joe – Are you doing your homework?

Q: Fred Huber

Your Dad and I worked together for 15 years (I tried to make it longer) and are still pals. You’re better looking than he, but probably not near as good a cook. But because of your Mom and Dad, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t a Nobel Prize AND an Oscar out there! Run ’em down!

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.