Those of you who have been keeping up with the blogs will probably be aware that during the summer months, CERN has a summer student program that allows recently graduated students from all over the place – although most of them come from European universities – to come to CERN for a few months and obtain really valuable profesional and educational experience. The procedure to come here as a summer student is – as would be expected – highly selective; as many Physics and Engineering students apply. On top of that, this year the turnout of applicants was even higher given the present economic situation.
Although as Rice students we don’t strictly fall under the summer student program umbrella, we still mingle with them and naturally take part in the activities that CERN organizes for them. One of the most important ones – which I am finding extremely useful – is the Summer Student School Lecture series.
Every day, from 9 AM to Noon, they have three different lectures covering a wide range of topics – from the principles behind accelerator construction to Data Acquisition systems, passing through Anti-matter. The best part of them is that being at CERN, the lecturers themselves are all brilliant Physicists, some of the best in the world, who volunteer to give their time and effort to share a small piece of their knowledge with us. For instance, this week we’ve had the honor to receive Dr. Graham Ross, from Oxford University, who has given us five classes on the fundamentals of particle physics and the standard model. For me it has been very enlightening, as well as helpful seeing as one of the classes I’m taking next semester is Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics! Admittedly, the level of the lecture was maybe slightly above the level of lectures I am used to, seeing as it was aimed at new Graduate students and not undergraduates, but it is very difficult to homogenize the level of these lectures such that they are accesible (not too easy and not too hard) for everyone in such a diverse audience.
I’d like to share a little experience regarding one of the lectures that we had last week, even though it wasn’t one of the lectures from the Summer Student program. Dr. Steven Weinberg, the 1979 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, was at CERN last week to share his knowledge on Quantum Field Theory. All of the summer students happily marched (or more accurately ran, seeing as the seating was limited) to The Globe, the famous building that has now been immortalized by the Angels and Demons movie. I invite you to see the video of his lecture here.
You will see that a presentation of the most recent advances in the field of theoretical Physics hardly qualifies as “accesible”, as was evident from about the 2nd line of the 2nd slide. Amram and I didn’t really follow much of the content of the lecture itself, but it was still really enlightening. James joked while the first slide was up (where an unlabeled and handrawn simple graph was displayed) about how easily they give away Nobel prizes these days, anyone can make a graph like that! (again, refer to the presentation to see what is meant). And Vesna, my supervisor (and a PostDoc student) asked me to please summarize the lecture to her after it was done, to see if I had caught the minor details. We all laughed, seeing as I’m (hopefully) about 7 years away in my Physics education from being able to do stuff like that. The next day, even one of the lecturers from the Summer lectures themselves joked about how difficult it was to follow! However, it was great that we had the chance to go to the lecture and to listen to such a brilliant man speaking about what he is, well, brilliant at.