Low-Temperature Physics in High-Temperature Puerto Rico
On a beach in Puerto Rico, Joseph Ramirez walked in reverse towards the ocean and at exactly midnight leaped backwards into the water. According to the tradition of "Noche de San Juan," this act brings good luck and keeps away evil throughout the year. Ramirez's experiences this summer doing physics research at the University of Puerto Rico and exploring his cultural heritage have brought him knowledge and insights beyond just luck.
Ramirez is working with superconducting metal films in an attempt to uncover the mystery of a recently discovered transition between superconductor and insulator. He has been analyzing, via lab computer, the surfaces of metal films only a few nanometers in thickness, trying to discover whether or not the structure of these metallic surfaces is responsible for the unexpected phase transition.
Outside the lab, he has been familiarizing himself with the culture of the island in order to gain a more worldly perspective and explore his Puerto Rican roots. His father moved to America from Puerto Rico as a 15-year-old. "[My father's] heritage, and by extension mine, is something that I felt deserved a deeper understanding," says Ramirez.
Some staples of the Puerto Rican lifestyle he has observed include strong family ties and flavorful cooking. "There seems to be an "island vibe" here with many people taking the mellow approach to life and yet not sacrificing ambition," he says.
Most people he has met speak both English and Spanish although Spanish seems to be the language of choice during casual conversation. As half Puerto Rican, Ramirez fits in well, but his Spanish requires work so he has been struggling to communicate effectively. For example, he once told a girl he had just met that he loved her rather than the intended "pleasure to meet you." "I have come to understand that although life can seem daunting at times, there are very few things that are legitimately worth worrying about and that a cool head is always the key to success and even better, to happiness," he says. "In short, I've learned to relax."
For the remainder of his time in Puerto Rico, Ramirez hopes to discover what is happening with the thin superconducting metallic films, do a little more soul searching, go cave-diving, use a machete in the rainforest, visit one of the top beaches in the world, lay in a hammock, and continue playing his harmonica with a local cafÃ© jazz band. After all that is done, he is looking forward to going back home to the 'Ford.
--Heather Harden '11