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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Un Américain à Paris

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Les Parisiens attendent patiemment sous la pluie le 17 décembre 2011, deux heures avant d'assister à la conférence de Saul Perlmutter, Prix Nobel de physique 2011.

Qu’est-ce qui peut pousser les Parisiens à patienter dans le froid un samedi 17 décembre, plutôt que de courir les magasins de Noël ? Simplement la crainte qu’il n’y ait pas assez de place pour assister à la toute première conférence de l’Américain Saul Perlmutter, après avoir reçu son Nobel de physique à Stockholm. En cette année 2011, Saul vient en effet de voir son travail récompensé de la plus haute distinction qu’il partage avec Adam Riess et Brian P. Schmidt “pour la découverte de l’expansion accélérée de l’Univers”.

Si Saul a fait un arrêt par Paris avant de reprendre un avion pour rentrer chez lui, ce n’est pas par hasard. Car des chercheurs de l’IN2P3 au Laboratoire de Physique Nucléaire et de Hautes Energies (LPNHE), travaillent à ses côtés depuis de nombreuses années, engagés dans les programmes de mesure en cosmologie à l’aide des supernovae de type Ia, à l’origine de cette découverte.

C’est donc tout naturellement qu’il a répondu à l’invitation de son collègue Reynald Pain – actuel Directeur du LPNHE et co-signataire de l’article phare du Nobel, acceptant de donner à la fois un séminaire scientifique ce vendredi 16 décembre à l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie, et une conférence grand public à l’amphithéâtre des Cordeliers samedi 17, au coeur du quartier latin. Et c’était la foule des grands jours dans ce haut-lieu historique de Paris. De 600 à 700 personnes se sont entassées dans la salle de 470 places réservée pour l’occasion, dont une centaine assises dans les escaliers, et quelques dizaines restées debout ou assises par terre, là où elles ont pu trouver un petit bout de place !

La foule s'installe. 30 minutes avant le début de la conférence, la salle est déjà presque pleine.

Au menu de cette conférence-événement, l’accélération de l’expansion de l’Univers évidemment, mais aussi l’énergie noire, cette mystérieuse substance “répulsive” qui pourrait expliquer l’accélération en question. Saul est revenu en détail sur l’ensemble de cette aventure qui a conduit à un résultat totalement inattendu… et qui reste largement inexpliqué de nos jours.

Saul Perlmutter, juste avant sa conférence à Paris, le 17 décembre 2011.

Notre physique est souvent jugée trop compliquée à vulgariser, tant et si bien qu’il est parfois difficile de convaincre que l’on peut organiser une conférence, une exposition ou tout autre effort pour partager les mystères de la nature avec un large public. S’il fallait une preuve que le public est avide de connaissance, cette conférence sera au moins là pour attester que les sciences dures peuvent rassembler elles aussi un public très mélangé et de tous âges. Ce public là n’a pas couru les magasins de Noël ce samedi 17 décembre, car son cadeau à lui, c’était de rencontrer Saul Perlmutter. Merci à lui pour ce beau cadeau de Noël offert à nos concitoyens.

Arnaud Marsollier,
responsable de la communication de l’IN2P3

Tous nos remerciements à JP. Martin pour ses photos. Il est possible de lire son compte-rendu de la conférence sur le site: planetastronomy


On the media at DPF

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Here we are at the end of the first day of the DPF 2011 conference. Sad to say, there was no fresh science news reported today, but everyone is clearly having a good time seeing old friends, and enjoying what appears to be the lovely city of Providence. (Their state capitol has nothing on Nebraska’s, though.) A few people are even tweeting, although not many. (I’ve been trying to tweet all day; it keeps me from making flippant comments to the person sitting next to me, but I’m not sure I’m adding any real value.)

Today I had the pleasure of moderating a lunchtime discussion panel on “Physics and Modern Media,” which I co-organized with Gordon Watts of the University of Washington. The goal of the conference organizers was to have a discussion of the impact of “new” media such as blogs (like this one!) and social media on how science and communication of science to the public works. We had a really great panel: Adrian Cho, a physics reporter for Science Magazine (who has a PhD in particle physics; we were graduate students together at Cornell); Lisa Van Pay, who works in public affairs at NSF with a lot of focus on social media (and has a PhD in toxicology); Chip Brock of Michigan State, the past chair of the DPF and (I discovered) a rather active user of social media; and Michael Schmitt of Northwestern, who started blogging independently and is now a fellow US LHC blogger for Quantum Diaries.

We came prepared to talk a lot about the changes in science journalism, where there have been some very interesting trends over the past few years. Many traditional media outlets are cutting back on their science reporting, and as a result organizations like NSF and universities (through their public information officers) are picking up the slack of disseminating science news to the general public. That really represents a huge shift in how science news gets to you, and who decides what the news is. Meanwhile, there is the advent of the Internet and blogs; it turns out that there are a lot of people who are willing to write about science without getting paid for it. There are also new routes for two-way interactions through comments posted on blogs, and through social media like Facebook and Twitter. These present potential opportunities for communication, and also challenges.

I was interested in digging into a lot of the journalism issues, but the physicists in the audience took us in a different direction, which was about how we can best make the case for particle physics to the public through the available tools. I’d have to say that there is both good and bad in this. It’s good that we are so enthusiastic about our work that we want to tell the world about it and try to bring them along with us, and that we want to come up with the most clever ways to do so. On the other hand, there is some element of what Adrian referred to as the “if only they knew” syndrome, that if we could just get people’s attention and tell them what it was we did, they would love us and shower us with funding forever. I doubt that the real world works that way, and perhaps it demonstrates too great an inward focus within our community.

Anyhow, everyone thought the forum was a success, if I may say so — the audience was very engaged, and the panelists enjoyed their discussion. My thanks to everyone who participated.


On Going Home(s)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Hi, folks!

I’ve been absent for a while on account of switching jobs: from “graduate student/research assistant” to “plot-slash-table-making automaton.” The cynical among you may argue that these are essentially the same thing, but it helps me sleep at night to believe otherwise. Well. At any rate, I’ve had several blog post ideas sloshing around in my head for months now, and rather than age to perfection, they’ve gotten all… mushy. Here is your first serving of mushed thought.

I went home to Michigan for Christmas. Things were pretty much the same, modulo the effects of prolonged regional economic distress and the strange sensation that everything and everyone was larger than they should be (cars, portion sizes, distances to points of interest, family members). Naturally people wanted to know what I’d been up to, but I was mostly at a loss for words: How does one condense high-energy physics and la vie CERNoise into a quip or anecdote that connects with non-physicists?

“I work a lot.”

Surprisingly, that seemed to satisfy most questioners. Also: “Haven’t managed to destroy the world yet.” For more thorough and eloquent answers, I turned to CERN’s visitor center and gift shop, bringing home a few CERN/physics books as both gifts and conversational references. When a friend asked about “the Higgs Bassoon,” I pointed her to a fully illustrated children’s book showing the basics of the Standard Model and how physicists are able to study it. “No, it’s not a woodwind instrument, it’s a hypothetical fundamental scalar boson.” This was the same book I gifted to my mom; tomorrow, on her 50th birthday, I will be sending her a quiz to assess what she learned. I am a terrible son. My dad had mentioned to me a drinking buddy who fancied himself a physics enthusiast, so I gave my dad a more advanced but still brief introduction to particle physics in order to impress this guy and, one hopes, get a free drink or two out of the exchange. See? My field has practical applications. In related news, my grandma found the Higgs Boson.

The whole experience has underscored the importance of accurate, accessible communication between scientists and the general public. This US LHC blog is a nice venue for such conversations, right? 🙂 But as for a much wider scale, let me just say that I’m incredibly thankful for all the science journalists and other folks out there engaged in outreach (Daisy, Bryan, Katie, …). We all benefit from your excellent metaphors.

I went home to New York for New Years. I was surprised to find that people in bars really like hearing about the LHC; I was not surprised to hear some call it the “Large Hardon Collider.” Emergency physics lessons ensued.

It’s easy to forget about (or at least willfully ignore) my institution, Stony Brook University, when it’s so far away, but since I was in the neighborhood, I swung by to say hello to my advisor and physics friends who don’t work at CERN. This was a dangerous move: advisors are pretty much obligated to request plots and tables from their advisees, and I quickly reverted to the automaton existence I’d left behind. Sigh. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder — will keep in mind next time I consider visiting.

Oh, one more thing before I get back to making last-minute plots for the ATLAS note I and my colleagues have been working on for some time (and will soon be submitting!) : Let’s please have a moment of silence for the Tevatron, a pioneer and workhorse in high-energy physics for the past two decades, whose funding won’t be extended beyond 2011.

It’s time for the LHC to really, really shine.

— Burton