Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Theoretical cosmologist

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical cosmologist, currently the Martin Luther King Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physics at M.I.T. This means that I do a lot of reading and calculus in the hopes that I can figure out how the universe evolved and what most of the matter and energy content in it is made of. I think of myself as a theoretical physicist because quantum field theory is pretty foundational to my day to day work, but I also have degrees in astronomy and my work intersects with astrophysical research.

What hardware do you use?

Probably the single most important piece of equipment I own are my Bose QC20i headphones (and the iPhone 6 they are usually attached to). As an introvert who is sensitive to external noises, it helps me gain a little control over my environment. Next most important is my Apple iPad Air 2. Unless I am going out for food or a stroll with my husband, my iPad is probably with me. I do almost all of my scientific publication reading on it, using my Maglus Stylus to make annotations. My Maglus really completes the setup.

For all my heavy computing/typing needs, I use a 15" MacBook Pro. For a long time I was opposed to using a Mac, but almost everyone in the astronomy community uses one, so eventually I gave in so that I can more easily use astronomy software. Of course, I need to be able to do calculations, but I also have a bit of a tendon condition in my writing hand. To make things easier on my wrist, I use a Pilot Vanishing Fountain Pen in a Moleskine notebook or glossy magazine paper.

And what software?

On my iPad the most important app is GoodReader. I do almost all of my reading and highlighting in it, using SugarSync and Dropbox to organize my personal and shared project files. When I want to take notes or highlight non-computer readable text, I use iAnnotate. When a computer is necessary for calculations or to make plots, Mathematica is my first choice because that's what my students like to use.

Recently I've also been learning how to do cosmological calculations using software called CosmoSIS. If you feed CosmoSIS some basic theoretical premises, it can predict the astronomical data that we should observe if the theory is correct.

What would be your dream setup?

I wish my MacBook Pro would fold up somehow. Also, I think it should have a touch screen. Sometimes I forget it doesn't and start pushing things on my screen. I wish I could add a 12" iPad into the rotation so that it made more sense to use it for calculations, although that Sony e-paper notepad is looking increasingly interesting, maybe at a lower price point or with more capabilities. Also, it would be great if someone could sell a Moleskine-like notebook with glossy paper in it. That would be perfect.