Friday, June 5, 2009

Growing Up...

Hello Dr. Syphers,
I was wondering if you were raised in a scientific enviornment. Were many of the people around you interested in science, or was there just something about it you liked?
Are there any youtube videos you know of that illustrate the concepts you are interested in?
Ryan D.
PS How do you feel about pluto not being considered a planet anymore?


Hi Ryan,

No, I was not raised in a scientific environment. My oldest sister and I were the first in my family to go to college. But our parents were very loving and caring and taught all of us kids (5 in all) that we could be and do anything we wanted if we worked hard at it. And that's what we all did.

Why science? From a very young age, maybe 6 or 7, I would stare at the stars in the sky and wonder what they were and how to get up there and why did they move around and what was the sun and the mooon and ... I really didn't know anyone else who was interested in science until I got into high school and took chemistry and physics. When I saw a physics book and learned that this science could explain the motion of the planets -- 10 years after I first started thinking about it! -- then I was hooked on physics.

I'm not all that familiar with the YouTube site, though I go there when other people give me links. There's one video I saw recently about one of the particle detectors we use here at Fermilab:
Here's one I found that talks about particle accelerators; it looks pretty good, and shows pictures of Fermilab:

Hope that's helpful.

Oh, and feel sorry for little Pluto...



Hi again, Ryan:

CERN is a laboratory on the border of Switzerland and France, near Geneva. I has been the long-time (friendly) rival to Fermilab. For 25 years, Fermilab has held the record for particle energies, with our proton beams in the Tevatron accelerator. In a year or so, CERN's new accelerator -- the LHC -- will be several times stronger (about 5-7 times). It's a very similar machine as the Tevatron, only bigger.

When we collide particles in the Tevatron (or LHC for that matter), we observe all of the bi-products of the collisions. There are certain statistical chances -- that can be calculated from theory -- as to what should happen and how often. The data is taken and analyzed to see if the theories we have match up with what we observe. The energy from the particle collisions creates new particles, many of which have not been created since the Big Bang! So, they are very rare events, and we hope that we can find evidence for a new particle -- the Higgs particle -- that is the missing link. The theories we have today predict that it should exist and if it does we expect to see it a few times if we take enough data.

I'm content working at Fermilab; I enjoy the midwest, and Chicago is a wonderful city. I do wish the SSC had not been canceled, however, as it was a major set-back for our country to stop such an important project.


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