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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

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Commencement Tours of SLAC

Stanford’s commencement was this past weekend, and one of the activities celebrating families could choose was a tour of SLAC. I happily volunteered to be a tour guide – I’ve actually wanted to be a SLAC tour guide for some time. I planned to “try out” to be a tour guide when I began graduate school, but the SLAC tour program went on hiatus shortly after I arrived. Now that tours will be starting up again – in the fall – I really wanted to do a commencement tour. I liked it, and I’m optimistic that I’ll get better at it with some practice.

Inside the Klystron Gallery. (Photo by Nicholas Bock.)

Inside the Klystron Gallery. (Photo by Nicholas Bock.)

In some ways, commencement tours are more difficult than “normal” tours. Talking to a tour bus of 50 people, it is hard to gauge reactions and interest. The majority of the “tour” occurs as the bus is driving from Stanford to SLAC, so the guide must fill about 20 minutes with material before the visitors have even seen the accelerator. The normal tours given at SLAC tend to be to a specific group of people: high school physics class, researchers visiting campus, or a large family on vacation. Some people may find the rich history of SLAC interesting, others may appreciate the recent work done at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). With a commencement tour, each family has a wide range of expertise and interest.

I tried to anticipate the questions I might get asked: What is the main difference between SSRL and LCLS? How does a klystron work? What is the maximum distance of acceleration that plasma wakefield has ever been sustained? What is the longest SLAC has gone between accelerator upgrades? I tried to prepare for the more obvious questions – likely about CERN and the LHC – but I was terrified of being quizzed on the details of SLAC’s long history. I hated that I might have to reply with “I’m just a graduate student, I don’t know” since I was a representative of SLAC. I’ve grown more comfortable with giving that answer during scientific talks, but I was hoping to not face it during tours. I ended up being asked very few questions – thankfully, none about the LHC destroying the world. I hope all visitors left having learned something about SLAC, and hopefully more interested in the science we do here.

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