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    A Century Of Physics In 1.5 Hours
    By Tommaso Dorigo | February 21st 2013 10:28 AM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    Today I spent the better part of the afternoon in the company of 150 high-school students at the Liceo Fermi in Padova, giving a seminar on particle physics in the context of a project called "Masterclasses" which has been active since 2005 and is a big success.

    The project aims at students in the last years of their high school and attempts to involve them in the experiments undergoing at the CERN laboratories. Sets of lectures on particle physics and cosmology at the schools are followed by a "hands-on" session at the Physics Department, where students are taught and then tested in recognizing heavy particle decays from event displays.

    Until two years ago, the data came from the LEP II experiments; but now students work with fresh data from the CMS experiment at LHC.

    My lecture was an introduction to particle physics, and lasted 1.5 hours. Rather than trying to concentrate on the very few concepts that can reasonably be absorbed in that short time span by the typical student, I decided to give a crash course where I touched on the most important developments of particle physics from its birth - Thomson's and Rutherford's experiments, the discovery of the first hadrons, etcetera- to the hypothesis of quarks, the birth of the standard model, and the higgs mechanims.

    The choice of showering students with an amount of material they cannot possibly absorb is not too foolish. The purpose is not to teach them stuff, as much as to get them curious and willing to learn more, something they have a chance to do e.g. when they design the short research papers they have to produce for their diplomas.

    I have some experience with the kind of seminar I gave today: I had given not too different versions of the same talk in at least four or five occasions in the recent past. So I was accustomed to the progressive decrease in attention of a percentage of the students; however, I managed to keep with me until the last slide the majority. That is, I think, a respectable success.

    The seminar gave me the occasion to meet the professor who organized the event in the school, Renato Macchietto. As is fortunately not infrequent, I found in him a well-prepared teacher, full of enthusiasm and good will to help his students grow by learning physics. I was quite interested to learn that under his lead his students participated in a NASA project to program the movements of robotic devices for the international space station - and they got the second place in the international competition among schools!

    So, while work was piling up in my absence, I can say I did not waste my time.

    Below is one sample slide from my talk (in Italian of course): I am sure that the concepts discussed will not sound too trivial even to those of you who regularly read this blog. The slide discusses representations of the group of symmetry of flavour SU(3), the group which describes states obtained by the combination of three quarks or antiquarks.

    The point I try to drive home here is that by using classification, physicists understand more about the properties of the objects they study, and infer properties about unknown elements -here the Omega minus, while earlier I was discussing Mendeleev's hypothesis of eka-germanium.

     

    After the talk I invited the students to visit this site, with the hope that they will find it interesting to dig in the archive of posts and find stuff that can be of interest to them.

    That also reminds me: I hope I will soon be able to fulfil an old promise of producing a commented list of links to the most interesting "evergreen" posts I wrote in the course of the last few years... For the time being, he who seeketh will findeth.

    Comments

    Hank
     I hope I will soon be able to fulfil an old promise of producing a commented list of links to the most interesting "evergreen" posts I wrote in the course of the last few years... For the time being, he who seeketh will findeth.
    I do that quite a lot when I am trying to remember something that you put into context well but I can't remember the article title and a general search of the site has too many hits.  For people who want to do the same, go to his profile page and right below his About section it says "Search For Articles By Tommaso" - that narrows the search for the term(s) to only his articles, rather than the whole site.
    rholley
    e poi scoperta, come il germanio!
    E il gallio anche.

    Both gallium and germanium were predicted by Mendeleev in 1871: gallium was discovered by Lecoq de Boisbaudran in 1875 and germanium by Clemens Winkler in 1886.

    So Gaul or Gallia (omnia divisa in tres partes) and Germania are next to each other in the periodic table, as well as geographically!

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    It's too bad we're so far away. I' m sure our physics teacher would love to have you visit his classes. ..if ever you're in Montreal...just don't come between November and April--you'll never find a suitcase big enough to hold all the winter clothes and other paraphernalia.
    Stellare
    I'd like to suggest a follow-up of your statement:
    "I decided to give a crash course where I touched on the most important developments of particle physics from its birth - Thomson's and Rutherford's experiments, the discovery of the first hadrons, etcetera- to the hypothesis of quarks, the birth of the standard model, and the higgs mechanims."

    You know what would be cool if you did - and that will help both your students and others interested in physics? Make a simple overview of the history, not too detailed (the students can dive into that later or in other literature). An infographics would be awesome, with some illustrations and some simple explanations. I am sure it will be helpful for students - and physicist like me who have forgotten way too much. Sometimes a structured presentation makes it easier to find old knowledge on the overloaded 'hardisk' :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    dorigo
    Hello Bente,

    yes, infographics are good - but I am not too good at producing them! Anyway yes, the purpose of much of my talk was to give student the idea of how the progress of a science was the result of few fundamental ingredients. In the case of particle physics it was technological advancements, a few good ideas, and three fundamental principles: Occam's razor, the power of classification, and the repetitive application of the concept of spectroscopic investigation to different setups.

    Cheers,
    T.
    PengKuan
    What will be the influence on particle physics if the Lorentz force law is not fully exact? Here is an experiment that shows the movement of a coil in a magnetic field. Surprisingly, it does not turn in the way predicted by the Lorentz force law.
    Lorentz perpendicular action experiment and Lorentz force law http://pengkuanem.blogspot.com/2013/02/lorentz-perpendicular-action-expe...