All-star line-up – Physics World columnist Robert P Crease (far right) in front of the ATLAS detector at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider as he and his fellow speakers brace themselves ahead of today’s TEDx talks at CERN.
By Robert P Crease in CERN, Geneva
On Tuesday morning I addressed 1300 empty chairs.
I was the first of several presenters yesterday at a dress rehearsal for the TEDxCERN event, which takes place this afternoon, Wednesday 24 September. The rehearsal was held in a huge tent specially constructed for this event, and for CERN’s 60th-anniversary celebrations next week. The programme will be broadcast live today starting at 1.30 p.m. CEST (GMT+2).
It isn’t easy, I discovered, to grab the attention of empty chairs. I stumbled over sentences and forgot to click my slides. Occasionally I felt on automatic pilot, and had the eerie experience of hearing myself speak with a half-second delay, as if I were listening to myself from the back of my head. I went a minute over time and also discovered a typo in a slide that I had viewed approximately a zillion times before. I was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one; some of those who followed, too, tripped over delivery or had trouble with slides.
Sorry, you missed this concert by the UN Symphony Orchestra on 19 September, but there is more music coming up. (Courtesy: CERN)
By Hamish Johnston
All this week the people at CERN and in its member states will be celebrating 60 years of particle physics at the world-famous lab in Geneva. There is something for everyone to enjoy and here are a few highlights that we have picked out
Calm before the storm – the view of CERN from Robert P Crease’s bedroom window as he tries desperately to shave a final two minutes off his TEDx talk.
By Robert P Crease in CERN, Geneva
On Sunday morning I arrived at CERN to find workers putting finishing touches on a huge tent where the lab will host its TEDx event on Wednesday, and its 60th anniversary festivities next week.
“TED”, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a non-profit organization that promotes talks on what it calls “ideas worth spreading”; the “x” denotes an independent event organized in that spirit. This is the second TEDxCERN – the first took place last year – and it’s hosted by Brian Cox. More than 1000 people will watch 14 speakers, three performances and three animations; tens of thousands more viewers are expected online.
James Gillies, CERN’s head of communication, invited me to be a speaker. The subject this year, he said, was how science could better engage with major social challenges. He said that my May Physics World column “Why don’t they listen?” – on why scientists have difficulty getting politicians’ ears – had “hit the nail on the head”, and asked if I’d be interested in discussing the idea.
A week at CERN? A great excuse to implore colleagues take over my classes? Sure! All I had to do, I thought, was talk my way through some extended version of the column.
Pyramid power: this lovely object has nothing to do with postdocs. It is a simpler version of a much larger Sierpinski tree that can be found on London’s South Bank.
By Hamish Johnston
Just this week six people were convicted in Bristol of crimes related to running a pyramid scheme. This involves taking money from lots of new investors and giving it to a smaller number of investors who signed up earlier – until the pyramid collapses. Is the current model for training scientists a pyramid scheme of sorts? That is the claim in a piece on the US’s National Public Radio (NPR) website written by Richard Harris.
Scotland: staying in the UK following the referendum. (CC BY-SA 2.0/Jack Torcello)
By Matin Durrani
In the end, it was perhaps not too unexpected when Scotland voted against independence in yesterday’s referendum. Almost all of the polls in the run-up to the vote had signalled a win for the “no” camp – and so it turned out, with 55% of voters wanting Scotland to remain tied to England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the UK. But it was a relatively close-run affair and many will be relieved that the two sides have avoided having tospend the next few years arguing, like a divorcing couple, over how to divide their spoils.
There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a CERN director-general (DG), certainly not this one in any case. In my experience, each incumbent has carved out a slightly different role for themself, shaped by the laboratory’s priorities and activities at the time of their mandate. For me, every day goes beyond science, management and administration, and I am particularly fortunate to have been DG through a remarkable period that has seen not only the successful launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and confirmation of the Brout–Englert–Higgs mechanism, but also an opening of CERN to the world – an area that I have pursued with particular vigour.
The story of young brain-tumour patient Ashya King has gripped the British public over the past few weeks, with every twist and turn covered extensively in the media. In a nutshell, the five year old was removed from a hospital in Southampton at the end of August by his parents, without the authorization of doctors. They wanted their son to receive proton-beam therapy, which was not offered to them through the National Health Service (NHS). The family went to Spain in search of the treatment, triggering an international police hunt that subsequently saw the parents arrested before later being released.
The drama was accompanied by a heavy dose of armchair commentary, with Ashya’s parents, the hospital in Southampton and the police all receiving both criticism and praise. Even the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, got caught up in the affair, as he offered his personal support to the parents. To cut a long story short, Ashya’s parents finally got their wish and they have ended up at a proton-therapy centre in the Czech Republic where their son’s treatment begins today.
But what is proton therapy? It is a relatively new medical innovation that shows great promise in the treatment of cancer, though it is only currently available in certain countries. Beams of protons can be directed with precision at tumours in the body – allowing the energy to destroy cancer cells, while causing less damage to the surrounding tissue than is possible with conventional radiation therapies. The treatment, however, is only really useful in specific cases of cancer, such as where is vitally important that surrounding structures are not damaged. And because it is relatively new, there is less information available about how effective it is compared with more established treatments.
Kern took me on a guided tour of the the centre, which he has been involved with since its conception in 2008, during a break from attending a symposium celebrating the life of Manuel Cardona, a former institute director who passed away earlier this year.
The building is unique, not only in Germany but worldwide, as it offers researchers a space in which to do experiments that are seismically, acoustically and electrically isolated from the environment.
Its secret life will be revealed at the Science Museum in London. (Courtesy: Batholith)
If you happen to be in London next Saturday (20 September), the Science Museum is running a workshop called “The field life of electronic objects”. Participants will measure the electromagnetic fields surrounding everyday objects such as hairdryers and hard drives “to produce astonishing light images of these objects’ secret life”. Space is limited, the cost is £10 and you can register online.
One thing that we really struggle with here at physicsworld.com is comments from crackpots. My colleagues and I put a lot of effort into writing and editing articles that we believe will be of general interest to the physics community. There is nothing more soul-destroying than spending hours trying to understand and then explain a tricky piece of research only to see the comments on your article hijacked by someone promoting their own bizarre theory.
The American Physical Society (APS) takes a brave and novel way of dealing with crackpots – it gives them their own sessions at APS conferences. In “The Crackpot Conundrum”, blogger Henry Brown describes the mood at such sessions as depressing, something that I understand based on a session that I sat through. Brown then reviews some of the various ways that physics bloggers deal with crackpots and in a moment of deep introspection suspects that he might be seen by some as a crackpot!
Finally, if you are winding down on a Friday afternoon, you can put yourself in a trance by watching these mesmerizing animations by the Irish physicist David Whyte.
It’s been nearly two weeks since I spent three intense and interesting days in Sweden bundled into a classroom with other journalists and scientists to polish up our knowledge of all things quantum. Since attending the NORDITA science-writing workshop, I have spent a lot of time thinking about one of the main themes of the meeting: “What is the best way to communicate quantum physics to the public?”