Packing for Copenhagen

CPH DOX catalogue

I am too infrequent a blogger. Reading back of my last few posts I can update as follows: my broadcaster gave me the perfect logline for the film.

Bringing the Universe Down to Earth.

And yesterday I tried explaining Baryon Acoustic Oscillations to a filmmaker who loves science and music, and could relate to the CMB when he thought of it as the sound of the Big Bang.

This morning I was packing. I fly to Copenhagen early this afternoon for CPH DOX where STAR MEN will screen three times, on Sunday Nov. 8, Tuesday Nov. 10, and Saturday Nov. 14. I am grateful to the festival and looking forward to it and to meeting the audience.

Anyway this blog is really about packing.  I am packing too much stuff  - too many notebooks and receipts – and I realized that at the end of my life, as I approached death, I would jettison stuff, forced by the inescapable fact that I couldn’t take it with me.  Ancient people packed their tombs with swords, and jewelry and mirrors fervently believing that they could take it with them, and that there would be a life after their earthly one where tools would come in handy. Should I be buried with my notebooks?  I’d like to be free of them, but I’m having a hard time leaving them behind.  I wondered what we could take with us, if we had to leave everything else behind, and the list was:  love, friendship, affection, wonder (or their opposites)  would be the things we’d take, and if that is the case, then  could I start packing those things with me now, and lighten my load?  Alison

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Evolution of a logline

I am editing with Dave Kazala.  We are working on my point-of-view documentary about a road trip I took with four somewhat elderly astronomers who, to celebrate the milestone, decided to take a 50th anniversary road trip  in the southwestern USA, their first road trip together in half a century.

For the past couple of days I’ve been working on a log line, an elegant distillation of the film in a line.

The first iteration  had Dave wrinkle his nose slightly and say, ‘I wouldn’t use golden, or anniversary.’  He went on a bit and I didn’t take notes so can’t quote him verbatim but glancing at the screen he said,  ’a life lived in astronomy is a good life.’  Then he added the prescriptive:  ”something poetic” before he put on his headphones and went back to work.

I mulled. Went to Maudy Thursday service, then a documentary at the lightbox (. . .Vivian Meier), then Good Friday service this morning. I had lunch with a film programmer from Montreal;  bought chocolates for Easter,  and then came into the studio and wrote:

What could you learn from/in a lifetime observing the universe?

What would a lifetime observing the universe teach you?

If you spent a lifetime observing the universe, what would you learn?

What you learn from a lifetime observing the universe.

What you learn from observing the universe.

What you learn from studying the universe.

What you learn from the universe.

What you learn from the universe in a lifetime.


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Words of the Day

Today I’m learning the following terms:

Compton Scattering.

The Sunyaev- Zel’dovich Effect.

Baryon Acoustic Oscillation.


Five of my CITA colleagues (Dick, Mike, Amir, Eric and Adam) collaborated on a project that made the top 10 list of physics stories last year:  they observed the movement of galaxy clusters.  Clusters of galaxies are the biggest things we can see.  (Our galaxy cluster is called the Local Group and it has about 46 galaxies containing about 700 billion stars within about 5 million years of our galaxy the Milky Way.) Anyway, I have to write a simple paragraph explaining their achievement, and to do this I’m trying to wrap my head around the above mentioned. . . “compton scattering” and “the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect.”  So far, I’ve gathered that in 1972,  Sunyaev and Zel-dovich predicted that we should be able to see the movement of galaxy clusters etched on the cosmic microwave background radiation. . . . but how was it done? That’s what I have to figure out next.

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On the geography of collaboration

I am learning my way around CITA.

I don’t mean to be cryptic. I will explain what CITA is and how I came to be here as we go, but for the full effect you have to do what I did which is to step on this moving train and find your balance.*

Today I sent an email out entitled the geography of collaboration.  I wanted to know who people worked with, where and on what.  Kipp responded first.  (About Kipp:  glasses, short hair, longer sideburns. Endeared himself first to me when he explained  quantum entanglement as if it were simple for him to do so, and simple for me to grasp. Canadian, born and raised in Toronto. Started programming when he was a kid and programs something at CITA.  Works on LIGO  . . .TBD )

At CITA,  I feel like I am immersed in a different culture with its own language that I only partly understand – I listen and nod as if nodding helps. I smile.

Nick,  one of the astronomers in my film-in-progress  said that he used to read whatever interested him. Even if he couldn’t understand it he trusted that he would learn something. This gives me permission to be far out of my depth:  I sit in on seminars and discussion groups,  listen in on conversations, and take in what I can.  As a result, I learned most recently that there are two conflicting models of the physics of accretion disks, that basically “the Princeton Mafia can’t get their act together” and that both computer simulations are testing work done by my friend Donald with paper and pen in the 1970s. (Donald is also in the film.)

I asked about CITA collaborations because I’m going to the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers in Washington D.C. next week and I want to be able to say to people some of the CITApeople are working with people in your country, in this institute on this problem.  Kipp said he was working on a project with 1100 other researchers. . . .

Other Citazens work differently:  one has three collaborations with one or two people per project –  a total of five people from four countries  Spain, Poland, Ireland, America, now all working in the US at  places like JPL and Cornell.  A team of three here work with 11 other people in five countries including China. Kipp’s project is LIGO.  In LIGO Kipp is working to detect gravitational waves.  Gravitational waves are so faint that  it takes a collision of the most violent, massive objects to produce anything measurable.  LIGO will detect a displacement 1/1000th the diameter of a proton made by a gravitational wave produced by the collision of  black holes.  When I was born astronomers weren’t sure black holes existed. Donald proved they did,  and now I work around astrophysicists who show me how black holes collide.  In a sense collaboration is multi-generational and that is also part of its geography –   Kipp working on gravitational waves and Shane working  on accretion disks with Yan-Fei from China, now in Princeton, are also in a way collaborating with the young Donald who was working in Pasadena and Greenwich 40 years ago.

*Some explanation:  On September 4th, 2012 I began working as the inaugural outreach and communications coordinator at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.  I am a writer by nature which is why there is a BLOG tab on web site. However, I found that I was loath to write about my filmmaking which made me feel too vulnerable, and the dismal state of my blog made me feel inadequate. However everyday at CITA from the day I arrived, there seemed to be something I wanted to write  and after incubating the urge for two months, I said to Norm, ‘I really want to write about what it’s like being here.’  and Norm said, ‘it’d be great if you could start now.’  Norm Murray is the director of CITA. I have no formal background in physics, math and astronomy, am not an avid amateur astronomer but I like to think about astrophysics and astronomy (or try) and I am making my second film about astronomers.

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I’m in Tucson.

Today I met with Roger Angel and Peter Strittmatter about Nick, and I toured the Mirror Lab briefly.  Then I had dinner with the Jesuits, and asked them how they became astronomers.

Tomorrow I fly to LAX and drive to Caltech.

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The Athenaeum Enterprise Reunion

Alison’s dispatches from the road…..

Athenaeum Enterprise Reunion, Dec. 23, 1960

1st Athenaeum Enterprise - December 23, 1960. Morning after first night camping, Donald Lyden-Bell, John Hazelhurst, Wallace Sargent, Nick Woolf, photographer (shadow) Roger Griffin and his ’53 Dodge.

Sheila is in the office; Daniel Grant prepped Alison to shoot; John Walker and David Kazala provided advice, and a bunch of friends and colleagues in the Toronto documentary community gave their support, particularly Sally Blake, Jet Loakman, Chanda Chevannes,  Trew, LIFT, and SIM.

I met Donald Lynden Bell, on the left, at a physics conference last May and he and I hit it off.  I met Nick Woolf on the far right 12 years ago, when I was making my first film, which was about the Jesuit astrophysicists at the Vatican Observatory.  The director of the Vatican Observatory pointed me to Nick to get a tour of the mirror lab, which had spun cast the mirror for the Vatican’s new telescope which was on a mountain near the University of Arizona. Read More »

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The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres

Tafelmusik, The Galileo Project

Tafelmusik, The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres

If you live in Southern Ontario and enjoyed our film Galileo’s Sons, we thought you might be interested in the concert The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres by Toronto’s own Tafelmusik.  It’s a “multi-disciplinary stellar concert experience, conceived … as an homage to Galileo.”  The concert runs from March 2 to 6th, 2011.  More more information about the concert and to buy tickets, go to

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End of year update

Wondering where we were this Fall?

Nov. 30 – Dec. 4th, 2010 – Alison Rose attended the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers Dresden, Germany.

Snowy walk to WCSFP

Nov. 22 – 24, 2010 – Alison Rose attended The Forum at IDFA in Amsterdam.

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