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Tech Q&A

Alex Vilenkin

Describe your latest project.
My latest research project is concerned with the exotic objects called cosmic strings, which are predicted in some theories of particle physics. Strings are very thin and long tubes of superheavy matter. Their thickness is a tiny fraction of a centimeter, but they can weigh as much as 100 trillion tons per yard. Strings could be formed in the hot early universe shortly after the big bang and may still twist around in the remote parts of the cosmos. I am investigating possible ways of detecting cosmic strings. My latest calculations suggest that the most promising method is to look for gravitational waves emitted by vibrating string loops. This method will be used in the upcoming cosmic string search with the gravitational wave detector LIGO.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
I reach clarity in the process of writing things down. When I am trying to understand something and feel that I am getting close, I am compelled to sit down and write.

Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
No, but I did after you asked. Embarrassingly, my geek score is very low: 25%. The verdict I got is that I am "not geeky at all" and "may even have a girlfriend."

Chess or video games?
Neither. I used to play chess as a child, but now I feel no need for mental gymnastics: I do physics research, instead.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
The Golden Key or Adventures of Buratino by Alexei Tolstoy. This is a very popular Russian adaptation of Pinocchio. (The name Buratino is derived from the Italian burratino, which means puppet.)

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
My best subject was physics, my worst "scientific communism." (I lived in the Soviet Union where all subjects were mandatory.)

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