It’s the first week of spring classes at UNL, even if it doesn’t look much like spring. (Temperatures will break the freezing mark tomorrow for the first time in about three weeks.) Today was the first day of the course I’m teaching this semester — introduction to particle physics at the graduate level. Actually, this “introduction” to the field is the only graduate-level course that we offer in the subject (we’re a small program), so I consider it a great privilege to be teaching it, and it is certainly a great responsibility, as for many of the students this will be the last course they ever take on this topic.
This is my second time teaching the class, and I must admit that I learned a lot of physics on my first time around, two years ago. Yes, I took a course like this as a graduate student, but the way to really learn something is to be prepared to teach it. I have a much greater appreciation for the successes of our models, and the constraints that all the existing data place on the possible extensions to those models.
It’s a lot easier to teach a course for the second time than for the first time, since you’ve done the work to re-learn all the material relatively recently, and you have a good idea about how you want to structure the course, etc. But I actually wish it weren’t so easy this time! When I last taught the class, in Spring 2008, the LHC was scheduled to start up that fall, and we would have had a year’s worth of data under our belts at this point. Perhaps it would have been naive to expect that we could have made any significant discoveries by now, but at the very least we would have started mapping out the physics of the next energy scale. I was hoping that I might have to significantly change the course for 2010 in light of what we were learning from the LHC!
But it wasn’t to be. However, by the end of the semester in early May, we will have collected a good amount of collision data at 7 TeV, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to share some of that experience with the students in the class. And I am expecting that I’ll be teaching this course again in Spring 2012 — let’s hope that I have a lot of prep work to do then!