Coffee and Physics

“A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.” — Alfréd Rényi

Coffee and academia have been intimately linked for centuries, with many of history’s greatest thinkers turning to coffee as their drug of choice.

Both writer Honoré de Balzac and philosopher Voltaire are rumoured to have consumed up to 50 cups of coffee per day. And coffeehouses were once the main meeting places of the intellectual elite.

In modern times, particularly mathematicians and scientists seem to have taken to enjoying and celebrating the art of good coffee, and few serious research groups are complete without decent coffee brewing equipment.

During my own PhD days, my group at Imperial College London was no exception. We were proud owners of a La Spaziale Vivaldi II espresso machine and a Mazzer Mini grinder, of which I was the main caretaker, the head barista of the group so to speak.

I also took it on myself to educate the rest of the group in all things coffee, from annoying emails on how to take care of the machine and keep it clean, to more warmly received talks and workshops about all aspects of coffee. I even had a wholesale account with London’s Workshop Coffee to supply our group (and myself) with beans.

And of course, I also consumed plenty of coffee:

However, as I have previously written about, I actually never spent much time working at university. For me there is simply something special about the atmosphere in coffee shops. It’s where I get most of my creative ideas. It’s a place where I can feel social and get inspired by other people, while simultaneously not being interrupted or distracted by them in my flow.

During the four years of my PhD I spent countless hours in coffee shops in London, Tokyo and elsewhere around the world. Two of them even featured in the acknowledgements of my PhD thesis.

While working at these coffee shops, I got into the habit of taking pictures of “coffee and physics”, scenes that captured both my love for coffee as well as my work. I liked the way those two concepts looked together. I can probably hear a few of you shouting “hipster” right now, but I can live with that ;)

Here I want to share some of these photos with you.

This one was the only one I actually took at university, in front of our long whiteboard wall.

If you thought that all these pictures looked quite similar, you’re right, they were all taken at TAP Coffee in London, my favorite place to get some work done.

Fun little anecdote from TAP: The first time I ever tried to (quite successfully) enhance my creativity and problem-solving ability with a small dose of “supplements”, I had a meeting with one of my PhD supervisors at at TAP. When he arrived he found me sketching an idea in my notebook. The first thing he said was “Wow, that looks trippy!” I just grinned at him and didn’t comment on it.

These are all from one of my favorite spots for work in Tokyo, Lattest Omotesando Espresso Bar.

Little Nap Coffee Stand in Tokyo was another place I spent a lot of time in, also because I used to live very close to it.

And sometimes I would just get a takeaway coffee and sit in nearby Yoyogi Park.

Also not too far was LIFE Son, which had a beautiful terrace I could work from on nice days.

And yet another Tokyo favorite near Yoyogi Park: Fuglen.

Back in London, this one was at Birdhouse Coffee close to my flat in Battersea.

Of course I also spent a lot of time in coffee shops when traveling, like this one in Singapore.

Or on this little square in Barcelona.

My favorite remote office in Barcelona though was Fratello Coffee Roasters.

Coffee has definitely left indelible marks on my PhD, both physically in my notebooks as well as more metaphorically, and these pictures are wonderful memories of that time.

I’m now actually shifting more and more back to doing a good chunk of my work remotely, away from the office, either at home or again in coffee shops. Maybe I should revive my habit of taking pictures of coffee and my work.

More where this came from

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AI Researcher, Writer, Digital Creative. Passionate about helping you build your rest ethic. Author of the international bestseller Time Off. www.maxfrenzel.com

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Max Frenzel, PhD

Max Frenzel, PhD

AI Researcher, Writer, Digital Creative. Passionate about helping you build your rest ethic. Author of the international bestseller Time Off. www.maxfrenzel.com

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