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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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APS, Day 1

Here I am in Denver for the April Meeting of the American Physical Society.  I know, it’s actually May, but sometimes the April Meeting ends up in May.  I haven’t been to an APS April Meeting in twelve years, because the virtues of this meeting are also its vices.  And what are those?  The conference is overwhelming, really.  The program is really enormous, with a very large number of parallel sessions.  It’s impossible to get to everything that sounds interesting.  And the days are awfully full.  I enjoy hearing a seminar about physics once or twice a week, but at APS you get seminars all day for four straight days.  I must admit that some talks I don’t listen to so carefully, so that my brain doesn’t get too full.

But the largeness of the conference is also a virtue, and as a result I’m quite glad that I came.  I’m seeing a lot of old friends whom I haven’t seen for a long time, and I’ve been in the field long enough (twenty years) that they come from all the different phases of my life, be it my very first physics teacher or my officemate from graduate school or people I worked with as a postdoc or some of the people I was with in San Diego last week.  Over lunch, I asked people why we should even have conferences anymore.  It used to be that the only way you could find out what was going on was by going to a conference, and in many research groups, someone who had gone to a conference was expected to give a talk about what happened there when they returned.  Of course now we have the Internet and new scientific information is disseminated very quickly.  But everyone agreed that the value was in getting to see so many people face to face, and also being pulled out of your day-to-day tasks so you could think about other things.  So yes, I should try to come to APS more often.  (But how often is it only one plane flight away from Lincoln?)

But OK, the science — what happened here today?  There was a plenary session this morning, and the leadoff talk was about results from the Fermi/GLAST telescope, which was launched last year.  I don’t want to say much about this because I don’t claim to understand it at all well, but besides doing things like discovering lots of new objects in the sky that produce high-energy photons, they are also observing electron and positrons in space at a rate consistent with the PAMELA experiment, which (as I understand it) could be explained by dark matter.  (I have perhaps garbled this; another blogger might do better with it.)  There was also a good talk about simulations of merging black holes.

I also attended some parallel sessions on Higgs physics and neutrino physics, and then a panel discussion on large international science projects, featuring former CERN Director-General Christopher Llewelyn-Smith, Fermilab director Pier Oddone and Dennis Kovar, the director of the High Energy Physics program in the DOE Office of Science.  Some of the discussion was about whether the United States can be a reliable partner in international projects if we make a new federal budget every year, and projects only get funded year to year as a result.

I’ll try to write more tomorrow — I have to give my own talk in the morning, and I should look it over once more yet.

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