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Bjoern Penning | Fermilab | USA

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Roaming Washington

The last days the annual meeting of the American Physical Society took place in Washington, D.C.

Although commonly perceived as sort of student conference due to the multitude of student talks given in parallel sessions, I think the APS offers an excellent variety of review talks and one can learn a great deal about neighboring fields. In addition there are sort of historical and prize sessions of great interest. Most notably this year maybe (at least for me as Higgs searcher), the Sakurai Prize. It is one of the most renowned prized in physics and was rewarded this year to Robert Brout, Francois Englert, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, Peter Higgs, and Tom Kibble. E.g. the fathers of the spontaneous symmetry breaking in gauge theories and the masses of vector boson. Or to make it short, the Higgs Mechanism. Of course considering that there are six laureates I hesitate a bit using only the term ‘Higgs’ here. I think this was the case as well for other participants. E.g. Rob Rosser was referring only to  the ‘Brout-Englert-Higgs-Hagen-Guralnik-Kibble’ (BEHHGK) mechanism in this plenary talk some days later.

Anyway, it is important to note that this would have been the first time that all six of them (nicknamed ‘Gang of Six’) are under one roof. Unfortunately Peter Higgs couldn’t make it due to health concerns.  Even more surprising, Engler and (I think) Hagen mentioned that they never met Peter Higgs before! Wow, almost 50 years gone by since their famous papers and they’ve never met. Would haven been great to seem them altogether. But five of them was great as well.

Gang of Five
Gang of Five

The session itself was very interesting. Each of them gave a very nice review of their important papers back in ~1964, sprinkled with anecdotes setting things in the historical and scientific context. Very educating, very interesting.

Of course there were many more interesting talk, covering topics from the invention of the  laser via low energy experiment up to modern cosmology and dark energy searches. No to mention the general location of the APS in Washington, D.C. The capital of the US hosts some very impressive museums. Of course I had to pay a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Wow! I think you don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or physicist) to be impressed. Right when entering one sees the original capsule of Friendship 7 and Apollo 11, hovering above them the X-15, Space Ship One, a Pioneer space probe and many many more unique exhibits.

Entrance of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Entrance of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The adjacent rooms host countless exhibits of man’s explorations. Just to mention a few, the original plane of the Brothers Wright, the space suits of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard and the ones from the Apollo 11 crew, still dusty from the moon dust. There are countless more exhibits, originals and true to the original replicas of the space missions, probes, spacecrafts, moon lander and vehicle, civil, research and military air planes etc.

P1030160
Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft docking
P1030170
Apollo 11 Lunar Suit
P1030177
Moon Lander

Really great. A tribute to the explatory spirit. Makes one consider, that since the moon landing and now almost as much time has passed as between the first flight of the Brother Wright and the moon landing. Somehow not really much has happened, unless of course someone considers the iPod or GSM phones or similar gadgets as a big leap in mankind’s development.

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