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July 9, 2014

Free falling

July 9, 2014

Occasionally, I’m a bit of a klutz. Like yesterday—I was sitting in a meeting at a conference table. I shifted a bit, caught my dress hem under the wheel of the chair and, worried that it might pull my whole dress down, tried to correct the situation and instead had the chair roll out from under me, planting my behind squarely on the floor next to my colleagues. I mean, who falls out of a chair they’ve been sitting in for 20 minutes already? Yep, that would be me. (Feel free to laugh—I did).

Honestly, I like to think I have good balance. I’ve always been a great ice skater, I’m fast on rollerblades, I ride a bike often, I can still do a mean cartwheel and I’m not completely horrible at sports. But sometimes I have problems with the basics—like walking, or sitting in a chair apparently.

I have tripped on air in the office hallway. I have fallen up and down the stairs. I’ve taken a tumble out the front door of my building in front of a large group of students (who added insult to injury by jumping to help but called me ma’am). My husband remembers introducing me to a law school classmate years ago and I shook his hand and then somehow fell down for no reason—great first impression. I’ve inadvertently flashed motorists on Grand River stumbling on the curb so that the wind caught my wrap dress just right. My daughter often jokes that it’s never really a family vacation until I fall down in public. Other than a bruise or two, luckily I’ve never been hurt, except my pride.

I’m sure there are ways to use the law of gravity or Newton’s laws of motion to describe exactly what happens to me when these things happen, but, unfortunately, I didn’t really retain much of what I learned in my high school physics class. I do, however, remember my best friend literally sliding into class one morning on her behind when she fell rushing to be on time. The teacher made an umpire motion and shouted, “safe!” So, at least I’ve never been alone in my mishaps. I also remember realizing that physics, for all its useful applications in the world, was not an area of study for me.

But for a whole bunch of people at MSU, physics is their life’s work. In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, Michigan State has the No. 1 ranked nuclear physics graduate program in the country, wrangling that away from MIT back in 2010. MSU awards about 10 percent of the nation’s nuclear science doctorates and operates the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory. MSU also will house the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a $550 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The study of physics is a big, big deal at Michigan State.

Reinhard Schwienhorst is an associate professor of physics and astronomy. He is a particle physicist, exploring the energy frontier, studying the laws of nature at the highest energies together with his MSU colleagues and collaborators from around the world on the ATLAS experiment at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. I might not understand the science so well, but his FACULTY VOICE: Collaboration, Competition and Collisions, is a really interesting commentary about the work he does with people from all around the world.

Katie Abdilla isn’t studying physics, but she recently had the chance to experience a different part of the world in India. She was part of a study abroad class offered by the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Her STUDENT VIEW: A Bollywood Dream, talks about trying to learn a traditional dance and feeling initially defeated, but also driven to work hard to perfect it.

I don’t know if Katie fell down at all while practicing, but if she did, I’m certain she got back up. Just like I do. One of my colleagues told me I handled yesterday’s tumble beautifully. I’m not sure about that, but I did get back up and continue on with my meeting. I’m guessing there are many missteps and setbacks in the work Reinhard does, but he doesn’t give up. That’s the thing about Spartans. The laws of physics and gravity might always be at work to pull us down, but true Spartans get right back up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work at making this world a better place.

Spartans Will.


Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday


Photo of the stairwell in Olds Hall (which I've fallen up and down on) taken by Derrick L. Turner



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