Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Adopted Again

Last Fall I ran a blog/discussion with three high school physics classes through the Adopt-A-Physicist program sponsored by Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, with aid from the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers. The next few blog entries will be posts from that discussion. Names of students and institutions have been edited for privacy, but the content is original.

Introduction - Oct 12 10:33AM Mike Syphers
66 Posts

Hello, thank you for adopting me in the Adopt-a-Physicist program.

To get an idea of who I am, you can view my profile.

-Mike Syphers

Particle Accelerators - Oct 12 3:22PM
4 Posts
Hello Dr. Syphers! We are three students from a high school in Wisconsin.
Dr. Syphers, have you ever read the book Angels and Demons? It talks about particle accelerators. I was wondering, is Dan's description of these up-to-date? Did he exaggerate any of these details? Or, on the other hand, have there been advances in this field since he published this book?

Happy to hear from you! Yes, I've read Angels and Demons -- and saw the movie, too. I've also been to CERN, where the particle accelerator from the book is located. First of all, let me remind you that one purchases that book in the Fiction section of the bookstore(!). Dan's books have been very exciting to read (at least for me), but they have about as much fiction as what appears to be fact. As for the accelerator, there really is an "LHC" at CERN, though it hasn't successfully turned on yet. It also will not be used to make antimatter in any large quantities, so that's part of the fiction. The greatest exaggeration in the story is that the LHC would produce enough antimatter to generate a large explosion, which is hogwash. Here at Fermilab, we make more antimatter (antiprotons, to be specific) than any place on earth in our accelerators. If the Fermilab machines were used to make antiprotons at our full capacity, it would take about 500,000,000 years to make a gram of antiprotons. (Wouldn't have to worry about job security, eh?)
But, the cool thing is that antimatter does exist, we can make it, it does annihilate with regular matter to form pure energy, and we at Fermilab do collide protons with antiprotons to look at the particles that get created from this energy. We do it every day. And that's not science fiction! But if you told everyone that it was enough energy to light up a 4 Watt light bulb, you wouldn't sell all that many books...


Re: Introduction - Oct 13 1:42PM
3 Posts
Hello Mr. Syphers, 
 Greetings from New Jersey. Thank you for being one of our physicist's! We are very excited to have you. We here at our tiny little school are aware that you tought high school for only one year. What made you change your job? Do you miss it? Also at Fermilab was there a project which was set up for detecting dark matter that was passing through extremely cold plates in a chamber? If so did you work on it and did you discover anything?

My H.S. teaching job was my first job out of college. I really enjoyed it, but it was a tough time for teachers at that school. It was a small school near Chicago, and there was a "tax referendum" that was voted on by the community, and they voted not to raise taxes for the school. SO, the school district laid off all of the first-year teachers. Oh well... BUT, there was a job opening just down the street at Fermilab, so I applied and got the job. The rest is ... history.
But, I never really got away from teaching. I learned my job and taught what I learned to others below me, and then I went back to college for my MS and PhD degrees. Since then, I've taught college courses quite a bit, and had many students work with me at Fermilab. So, it's still been very rewarding and teaching continues to be a big part of my life. (Like, Adopt-A-Physicist!)
As for the Dark Matter search, I personally did not work on that experiment. You can find more about it (if you haven't already) at: http://ppd.fnal.gov/experiments/cdms/

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