Last night was something different: I gave a public talk at the University of Munich, targeted at a general audience. Things like that are actually a fun experience, because I get in contact with people who are excited about the science I do, without being scientists themselves. The presentation was quite well attended, something like 100 to 150 people, maybe partially due to the rather flashy title I chose, translated to English “Particle Physics at the Terascale: Dawn of a new Era”, and of course helped by the recent increase in popularity of these topics.
I covered the whole range of topics from the standard model of particle physics to the Higgs boson and Supersymmetry, Dark Matter and Dark Energy all the way to possible extra dimensions of space. And of course I talked about the tools that we use to explore the new world of particle physics that we expect at the Terascale, at energies above 1 tera electron volts, 1 TeV. The main focus here is obviously the LHC at the moment, with the new start-up coming up this fall, but since I work on the development of detector technologies for the next accelerator after the LHC, the ILC, I also talked about that: A complementary machine, which will give us precise understanding of the physics to be discovered hopefully in the next few years at the LHC.
I could not resist to also talk about Antimatter and the facts and fiction of Angels and Demons, and the physics behind black holes at accelerators. This latter topic is truly fascinating: While I think it is extremely unlikely that we’ll discover mini black holes at the LHC, it would be absolutely thrilling if we would! Suddenly gravity would also be accessible in particle physics experiments, that would really be a revolution of our understanding of the particle world…
And as far as general audience talks go, nothing is as exciting as the possibility of complete destruction, proven to me when I gave a talk just about the black holes last fall at the “Deutsche Museum” in Munich last fall… that talk seats sold out in less than an hour. However, there is absolutely nothing to worry about: It is proven that nothing dangerous will be created in the collisions at the LHC, or at other particle accelerators, for that matter. CERN has a “safety report” on its webpage that thoroughly discusses all these concerns.
After my talk, which ran about 10 minutes over the planned 55 minutes because I got a bit carried away by my excitement for some of the topics, there were quite a number of often surprisingly thoughtful questions. For example: How can you steer protons so precisely that they actually hit each other? The answer is: regrettably we can not, that would require a precision on the femtometer, which is many orders of magnitude smaller than what is achievable with the best beam delivery systems. That is why we pack billions of particles into tightly compressed bunches, and then rely on the statistical probability that some of them will actually collide head on “by accident”.
All feedback I recieved after the talk was very positive about the science we do, which shows that the general public is also excited about what we can learn about the nature of our universe, and supports fundamental research.
So it was definitly worth the many hours I invested into the preparations. And I’m looking forward to my next chance to spread the word about the exciting things we do in particle physics!