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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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Taking the LHC to the Big Empty

Nebraska is a large state — more than 400 miles east to west, 200 miles north to south, and under 2 million people in all of that space.  About half of the population is concentrated in the Omaha and Lincoln areas.  Most of everyone else is along the Platte River that runs from west to east along the southern part of the state.  Away from there, Nebraska is pretty empty, and a town of 1000 starts to feel like a bustling metropolis.  Many smaller towns can be at least an hour’s drive away from a doctor, and many hours from the nearest Walmart (to establish a reference point).  The landscape has a certain stark beauty to it, vast yet intimate, as the narrow roads (lifelines for these small communities) are cut right along the sandhills, and you can drive for a couple of hours without seeing anything but a herd of cattle.

Last week I spent a few days driving around Nebraska to visit a few of our smaller towns to visit with high school students and teachers and share the excitement of the LHC.  I made it to Norfolk, Springview and Taylor.  Norfolk actually isn’t that small, with about 17,000 people, but the other two are the seats of counties that only have a few hundred people.  Education, already an inefficient process, is even more so in these small towns, where each grade might only have a handful of students in it.  The one high school for the county has a single science teacher who covers grades seven through twelve, with six or seven different preps.

This is how I came to give sixteen talks about the LHC in two and a half days.  (Mad props to these hard-working teachers who do this every day!)  I’ve done this before, but this time I had a new hook, which was to show the size of the LHC ring superimposed on a map of the town.  (I’m not sure whether this makes the LHC look big or small, actually.)  I also brought along a little vacuum tube with an electron beam; with that and a magnet, you can explain the basic principles of accelerators and also how we measure the momentum of charged particles in our experiment.  The students get to see how researchers in Nebraska are connected to cutting-edge research (I was able to say that CMS might see beam the very next weekend, and I was right) and how they could get involved in this work (or something just as exciting in another field) if they come to the university, and the teachers are glad to have an enrichment opportunity that is hard to come by in those remote areas.

I was exhausted from all the driving (670 miles round trip, most not on the Interstate) and all the talking, but I find these trips very rewarding.  OK, all you fellow scientists — get out there and share what you are doing with people who aren’t going to come by it easily!

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