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Posts Tagged ‘trees’

Into the woods, for one year

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

My apologies to all you loyal readers and our even more loyal editors for not posting as often as might like to (or at least ought to).  I am busy teaching a large lecture course for the first time, and it is keeping me rather busy.  I’m certainly enjoying the topic of this course (electromagnetism), and am thankful for all the technology tools that we have to manage classes with large numbers of students (all homework assignments and exams are done online).  But it still takes a lot of time.  Our first midterm exam is at the end of this week.  “Are you nervous?” I asked at the start of class today.  All the students said yes, and I told them that I was nervous too.  An exam is an accountability moment for all involved; if they don’t do well, I should shoulder some of the blame.

As I work my way through the material to prepare my classes, I am struck by how much we are asking the students to learn in one semester.  If you haven’t seen any of this before, it must be quite daunting.  Now, I’ve known about this stuff for twenty years, so I can easily see the big picture, but it is harder for someone who is new to it.  Just last weekend, I was at a party, and was chatting with a friend who teaches in our Modern Languages department and some of her colleagues.  When it came out that I’m in physics, one of them noted that physics was hard for her when she took it.  “It’s not that hard!” I said.  “You just have to remember that there are really only a few concepts in play, and the rest of it is applications.”  This is totally true — electromagnetism, for instance, comes down to four basic physical laws — but of course she didn’t believe me.  It is hard to see the forest for the trees.

When the LHC turns on, there are going to be quite a lot of trees, of course, and it is going to take us a while before we figure out what the forest looks like.  When it comes to LHC physics, we’re all going to be new students who haven’t seen any of it before.  That is rather bracing, of course, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun!

While writing, I ought to comment on some other current events:

  • I think that the announced plan for LHC running is good news.  These experiments need to start accumulating some data so that we can figure out how the detectors work and how to reconstruct what is going on in them, and by planning for a long data run (into Autumn 2010), CERN is intending to give us just that.  Nothing like data to make you smarter.
  • Other bloggers here have expressed concern about the stimulus plan currently under consideration in the Congress.  I agree; I worry that it is not big enough and not fast enough.  Science projects can easily absorb and make good use of the funding that has been proposed and is now at risk.  Let’s not forget that all money goes to people eventually.  Spending on science doesn’t go into a hole in the ground (not even a hole like the LHC!); it pays people to do stuff, and those people spend their money in the economy, and so forth.  I’ve been a bit dismayed to see that a certain Senator from a certain state has been less than helpful on this front.  I called his office; it hasn’t seemed to have gotten me anywhere.
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