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Masterclasses 2008: a conference in Bassano January 29, 2008

Posted by dorigo in personal, physics, science, travel.

This afternoon I traveled to Bassano del Grappa, a nice little town close to the first slopes of the eastern italian Alps, to give a lecture on particle physics to students of the last year of high school. This is in the context of the Master Classes, a program to publicize particle physics among students.

I had a very nice audience of about 20 students, and I talked for a bit less than two hours on the history of particle physics, the tools, the methods of investigation, and the discovery of quarks. I will have two more hours to describe more in detail a few of the most recent and present experiments in particle physics in two weeks.

You can browse the slides of my first lecture (in italian!) here (.ppt, 4.2Mb). They are not much different from those I showed one year ago, but I did change a few details and gave more emphasis on some aspects of the quark model, especially in my speech. I spent a lot of time on the chalkboard, drawing Feynman diagrams and particle reactions. The students asked meaningful questions and I was pleased with their attention and their level of understanding. All in all, a well-spent afternoon.


1. Phil Warnell - January 30, 2008

Hi T,

I liked the power point you presented to the class. To bad I can’t read (or speak) Italian. I do however get the gist of it. I also noticed that some was in English; quote cartoons, etc. I suspect then many in attendance would then understand even this part. That’s the one embarrassing aspect of Canadian education in not having more emphasis on learning other languages. I would be interested in what types of questions those students asked. You did however leave out one important fellow and that was fellow Canadian Richard Taylor who was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize for experimentally confirming Gell-Mann’s quark theory.



2. Chase - January 30, 2008

I would be also interested in what types of questions the students asked. I looked through your slides also without the benefit of Italian, but the breadth of what was covered in 2 hours is pretty impressive. At that level, I think you could have discussed (for example) the Rutherford scattering experiment for the entire 2 hours and *maybe* be able to get across why it was important. I am quite sure you can’t teach much that is meaningful about a Feynman diagram in that time.

3. Andrea Giammanco - January 30, 2008

About slides 9/10: I agree with you about religion as a disturbance factor, but I think you risked a lot😉

Are you sure about the “Eppur si muove” quote? I remember there was some discussion on this blog some time ago, but I don’t remember how it was settled. Was it apocryphal or not? And attributed to Bruno or Galilei?

4. Phil Warnell - January 30, 2008

Hi T,

One thing I forgot to ask. I noticed that you gave attention to Occam’s razor as being an important aspect of nature when examining the validity of proposed theories. I was surprised you didn’t also mention Fermi’s least action principle as being the other important clue when considering nature’s truth. This economy extends beyond simply description yet to action as well. Our Friar friend was not aware of this.



5. goffredo - January 30, 2008

“Eppure si muove” was never said by Galileo! It is part of a myth. Not only was Galileo a believer, but he was always a devout catholic. So the contrast between science and religion cannot honestly be exemplified by Galileo’s case.

The problem now-a-days has been turned around, I think. Today, inspite of three centuries of modern science, great scientific, wonderous technological advances and eloquent anti-religious sentiments by many charismatic figures, people of all sizes, shapes, colors and education still believe. “Eppur essi credono”

6. dorigo - January 30, 2008

Hi Phil,

I did not know Taylor won the nobel for that, will read about it… Yes, italians study English at school and they are supposed to know it… Although that is seldom the case.

Hi Chase,

the students had some prior knowledge of some of the physics, so not all I said was new to them. Besides, the idea of these lectures is to give an overview, and maybe stimulate the students without focusing on the details too much. They did ask interesting questions. There was a discussion on the energy available to create new mass in head-on and fixed-target experiments triggered by a question. Another student asked about the possibility to create tiny black holes at LHC, which had me explain a lot of what I had heard in Lisa Randall’s conference at CERN last September (see the report of that seminar in a previous blog entry – search “randall black holes site:dorigo.wordpress.com”).

Andrea, yes, I did insert something a bit provoking, but nobody spoke out to counter it… As for “e pur si muove”, I attributed it to Bruno in the slide. I remember the discussion we had on that here a while ago (will try to locate the link), but the slide is from last year’s talk, and I did not care to change it, since I am a lazy bum.

Phil, Occam’s razor is on a higher level than anything more quantitative in my opinion. I see it as a lamppost in particle physics research.

Jeff, I quoted Bruno in my slides, not Galileo… Anyway, good turning around of the quote.

Cheers all,

7. dorigo - January 30, 2008

Andrea, the post where we discussed about the quote by Bruno or Galileo was https://dorigo.wordpress.com/2007/02/17/showing-my-love-of-physics/ , which discussed the very same slides…

There is a good level of serendipity in a blog, hard to avoid that🙂
Anyway, I think we did not settle the issue there, and we aren’t making a lot of progress here either… Oh well.


8. Andrea Giammanco - January 30, 2008

Uh, also in that case I was the first to cast doubts on the quote.
I’m a textbook example of “stimulus-response”😉

9. db - January 30, 2008

T., you could amuse your students with the following quotation:
“Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends! Well I say there are some things we don’t want to know! Important things!”
– Ned Flanders (The Simpsons)

10. Phil Warnell - January 31, 2008

Hi T,

“Occam’s razor is on a higher level than anything more quantitative in my opinion. I see it as a lamppost in particle physics research.”

I don’t share your view that Fermi’s revelation should be considered nothing more than a quantitative anomaly; although those such as Feynman did. I do agree that simplicity is certainly a major lamppost of nature and yet would submit that least action to be the major pathway it serves to illuminate.



11. goffredo - January 31, 2008

I think George Bernard Shaw said (more or less)
“Science is always wrong! It never solves a problem with creating10 more!”

12. dorigo - January 31, 2008

Andrea, you remind me of a gary larson cartoon. There’s an amoeba sitting on the sofa “holding” a beer and the remote, watching TV, and his companion yelling “stimulus-response, stimulus-response. Can’t you _think_ ?”🙂

Nice one, DB, I’ll treasure it for the next seminar…

Hi Jeff, GBS was very pessimistic. The problems one solves and the ones one then faces have a different scale…

cheers all,

13. goffredo - January 31, 2008

Boy I type lousy.
I meant to write
“Science is always wrong! It never solves a problem WITHOUT creating10 more!”

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