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John Felde | University of Maryland | USA

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Free Public Lecture

Last night the Physics department hosted Nima Arkani-Hamed, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study.  He gave a free public lecture, entitled “Space-Time, Quantum Mechanics, and the Large Hadron Collider,” to roughly 500 people.  Oddly enough, the lecture was held in a large room connected to the Activities and Recreation Center which serves as the campus gym.  Nice to see it being used for intellectual exercise as well as physical.

http://justinide.com/#/university-photography/harvard-university/harvard_d

One particular comment he made struck a chord with me and my colleague.  While explaining the four fundamental forces of nature, he mentioned very briefly the Weak Nuclear force, and had a cartoon of the beta decay of a neutron.  During the explanation he directed his pointer to the little neutrino emitted in this reaction and said this to the audience: “This thing here is a neutrino, you don’t really need to care too much about it.  I certainly don’t.”  Most of the audience laughed, I gave a rather sad look to the only other neutrino physicist in the audience.  Now, before we take any offense, he did also explain that he doesn’t really care about ANY of the particles, and is much more interested in the laws that govern them.  This should should be the attitude of any physicist, but there is no shame in having a favorite particle right?

All things considered, the lecture was a great success.  Teaching the general public to the ideas of Quantum Mechanics and General relativity is a daunting task, and I am certainly glad it was not me up on the podium.  The end of his ~2 hour lecture focused on the experiments at the LHC, and what we might hope to discover with them.  Unfortunately for Nima, the audience had many more questions about the inner workings of the LHC than they did the implications of a quantized space-time.  This led to many questions being answered by the experimentalists in attendance rather than Nima.  I can assure you that whatever level of interest he might have in ordinary particles, like neutrinos, would dwarf his level of interest in how they achieve vacuum in the LHC beam line.

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