Friday, February 12, 2010

Another AaP comes to an end

Oct 29 1:34PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
46 Posts
hahaha. That thought did cross our minds, but don't worry we'll be good. We are unsure about our plans for halloween. D plans on launching more pumpkins though. Thank you so much for evrything and your time. We've learned a lot from you.
Goodbye from your fellow physicists,
D, A2, K and A :]

Goodbye, everyone! I hope you enjoy the rest of your school year, and your physics class especially!
Best wishes,

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Oct 26 10:51PM - Re: Re: ..
31 Posts
So, I was just reading through the other posts here, and I thought of some more questions. 

I really like the picture you posted of your particle accelerator! That is amazing! Where does all the "action" take place within the ring? 

I read that you had an interest in photography. I have recently really gotten into photography myself. What kinds of photography most interest you? Does your knowledge and interest in physics affect your understanding of photography?

Again, thanks for your time!


Hi M,
Glad the picture helps. The "action"? Well, the particles go around and around and collide head on at two places -- I have tried to mark them with red circles in the photo here...

Each beam of particles going around contains trillions of particles. Each time the groups of particles pass through each other, only a few actually "hit" the other beam, because the particles are so small and don't take up much space. But, since they go around again they get another chance to collide again (and again, and again,... all day long).

Calculate how many times a particle (that survives and doesn't get hit!) goes around the ring (4 miles around) in 24 hours, moving at the speed of light...

(sorry for the homework problem!) ;-)

I like lots of different styles of photography, but mostly take landscape or scenery photos, myself. You can see some of my photos at my Picasa site:
And yes, my knowledge of physics helps a great deal. Photography is all (mostly) about exposure of the film (or, CCD these days) -- time and aperture, lenses, depth of field, contrast, etc. So, there's light ray optics, time, space, diffraction, as well as all the electonic capabilities of modern cameras -- it's essentially all physics with a lot of "art" thrown in! I think its great!


Oct 28 12:41PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
37 Posts
wow what a beautiful picture!! Rochester doesn't compare to Chicago, but it does look pretty in the fall. That's cool about your kids I hope they succeed. What are you doing for halloween?
My wife and I will be going to a party with some friends on Friday night, and then we'll be passing out out candy at the house for a few hours on Saturday. What about you?
And don't tell me you'll be launching pumpkins at the neighbors!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting there

Oct 26 10:31PM - a
31 Posts

Another senior here. Just wondering what kind of courses you took in college, and how you came about the job you have now.


Hi M2,
I took a lot of physics, astronomy, and mathematics -- probably half of all my courses were in those subjects. I also minored in psychology and I took a lot of education courses so that I could get my teaching certificate. After all that, there were the usual English, philosophy, art appreciation, etc., etc. I really enjoyed college a lot!

After I got out of college I got a teaching job teaching high school physics and math. I only taught for one year, because the school ran out of money and laid people off. But then I got an intro job at Fermilab which was just down the road. I found that FASCINATING and it compelled me to go back to school to study more physics and get my Masters and PhD degrees. I think it's important to really try to do what you love to do. If you love your work, then you'll always be happy working, right? AND, since you love what you do, you'll probably become really good at it and therefore earn a good living at it!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Delta p over Delta t

Oct 26 1:40PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
32 Posts

we are currently learning that F=ma. what does F= delta P/ Delta t stand for? thats cool about your son and daughter. what colleges did they go to? What are your children planning to be when they graduate? Most of use are undecided, but we will probably end up going to the community college. A used to live in Illinois for 3 years. Have you ever been to Chicago? Have you ever been in a tornado before? would you ever want to study them?


Newton actually first described his second law in terms of momentum. He said that for an object to have its momentum altered (mass time velocity) then a force has to be applied over a certain length of time. So, F= delta P/ Delta t means that the force is equal to the change in momentum divided by the change in time. But it isn't often introduced that way these days, at least not in High School physics.

My daughter is at Purdue University in Indiana, and my son is at a local community college here where we live, near Chicago. She is studying hotel management, and he is studying emergency medicine to become a paramedic.

I've been to Chicago many, many times. It is a really beautiful city, one of my all-time favorites. I've attached a photo of Chicago taken (not by me) from the top of the Fermilab main building. It was taken at sunset one day of the year when the sun reflects off of the buildings directly back toward Fermilab.
I have not ever seen a tornado. But I've seen first-hand what they can do, and have been close before! I'm not sure I'd be up to studying them up close, though!

Oct 26 10:10PM - Re: Re: ...
31 Posts
Thanks so much for your reply! We really appreciate your time!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Physics Hero

Oct 22 9:57PM - ...
27 Posts

Hello Dr. Syphers! I was wondering why you first became interested in physics? Did someone have a particular influence on you (like a parent or a teacher, or a famous physicist)? On a similar note, did you have a favorite physicist as a student?


Hi M,

Good to hear from you. I think I first became interested in science at a young age, like about 6-7 years old. I was very interested in the things that were going on in the space program (Gemini, Apollo, etc.) and wanted to learn all about the stars and moon and planets. It wasn't until I was in High School that I found out that "physics" was the science that talked about all that. That's when I knew I wanted to study physics (and astronomy and astrophysics!). My older sister was an influence -- she bought me my first astronomy book and a star chart for my wall! -- and my Boy Scout Master was an amateur astronomer and taught me a lot. My H.S. physics teacher was wonderful and a huge influence on me, too!

As far as a favorite physicist, another school group asked me that same question, so I'll cut and past the same answer here.

"... And, as for my favorite scientist? Newton and Einstein always come to mind. However, I have always like a guy named James Clerk Maxwell. You'll learn about him probably much later in the year. But he did a LOT of things, including the final synthesis that showed the world how light, electricity, and magnetism are all related. He also showed (using pure logic, pen and paper) that the rings of Saturn could not be solid objects -- that they must be made up of broken up rocks or small particles of some sort. It was really quite an amazing thing to calculate and convince people back in the mid-1800's. He won a prize and became famous by that calculation. He did a lot of other things, too, but those are what I remember about him, and I always thought he was a cool dude."

Thanks, M!

Oct 23 1:31PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
27 Posts
Wow thats cool! We're learning Newton's laws right now. What's your favorite Newton's law? So far we've learned the first one and working on the second one. What's your favorite movies? We like The Hangover, Austin Powers Goldmember, Transformers, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Breakfast Club, In the Persuit of Happiness, and 7 Pounds. Do you have any kids? Do they like physics? Talk to you later!
Your fellow physicists! :]

Glad to hear you're enjoying learning about Sir Issac! It's hard to pick a "favorite" law of his three, but probably the second law is used the most in everyday physics calculations that it has to be my number one! (By the way, are you taught that F=ma, or are you taught that F = Delta p / Delta t ? Or both? Just curious; they're the same thing, but F=ma is usually taught in H.S., whereas the second concept is actually what Newton first wrote down...)

Favorite movies?? Well, I see and like a lot of movies, and I like all the ones you mentioned, except I haven't seen 7 Pounds. I have two kids, a daughter and a son -- they keep me pretty up-to-date on movies and such. They're both in college now. They both took physics -- my daughter did well in it (she's great at math!) and my son didn't like it so much. They're now studying business and emergency medicine.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Adopt-a-Physicist almost over...

Oct 20 1:41PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class! WSHS
19 Posts
Wow! You've been to a lot of places, that seems cool. But we were wondering what could you possibily do in those different places related to physics? 

We were also wondering what TV shows you watched? 
D likes Gossip Girl and Greek. 
A watches How I Met Your Mother and Psych. 
A2 enjoys 90210 and also Gossip Girl. 
K also watches How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory. 

Do you watch any of these? 

Your fellow phyicist.

Hi all,

As you might imagine, every country has its series of universities and, often times, their own national laboratories. So, some of my travels are to visit those labs and schools. And then, when people want to get together for a conference or a meeting, it is often chosen to be in a big city near a university or a lab. So that's how I manage to travel to all these places.

As for the TV shows; I really feel old. I don't believe I've ever watched any of those programs. I guess I'm more into Fringe, PBS Mystery shows, Law and Order, and news shows and sports and occasionally the Simpsons...

Oct 21 9:36AM - lots of flying junk
24 Posts

So you work with particle accelerators and i was wondering when the large hadron collider was going to be online again? and what does your company really do?

The LHC is scheduled to turn back on sometime the middle of next month, in about 3 weeks or so from now.

As for where I work, Fermilab is a U.S. National Laboratory run by the U.S. Department of Energy. We have almost a dozen particle accelerators here, the largest of which is the Tevatron which is the most powerful accelerator in the world. At least it will be until the LHC comes on and surpasses us. (We've held the record for over 25 years!) So, we use these accelerators to give particles -- mostly protons -- very high energies and then smash them into each other to try to unravel the building blocks of nature and reveal how everything in the physical world is composed and how they behave.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fav Scientist

Oct 22 12:38PM - Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
23 Posts
We've heard about Law and Order, it's a pretty good show. What exactly does your particle accelerator do? What would you suggest to make to launch a pumpkin. Would you use a sling shot or a catapolt? We just started a unit on Newton's laws. What's you favorite scientist? Hope to hear from you soon!

Your fellow physicists

The "accelerator" I work on uses electric fields to attract and accelerate charged particles -- mostly protons -- giving them more and more energy and speeding them up closer and closer to the speed of light. We use powerful electromagnets to steer the particles around in a circle so that they can pass through the electric fields again to gain more energy. After they've gone around a few million times, they have "seen" a total of about 1000 Million volts (or 1 Teravolts) of voltage. We say that they have an energy of one TeV (Tera-electron Volts; even though they are protons and not electrons...). So, the machine is called the Tevatron. It's the world's most powerful accelerator, and has been for over 25 years. A new machine coming on-line in Switzerland and France (it's so big it goes across the boundaries of these two countries!) will soon take over as "number one." It will go to 7 TeV energies. Anyway, you can see a picture of the Tevatron here:

(It's the biggest ring in the picture -- 4 miles around!) and our lab's web site (the second web site ever made in the U.S.!!) is here: .

OK, so for a pumpkin accelerator, I'd probably use a sling shot. I suspect that there are many good rubbery slings out there which would be easy to get and that would be much more reliable than a catapult contraption that you'd have to build from scratch. Just my thoughts, but I don't have much experience accelerating large, uncharged objects... ;-)

And, as for my favorite scientist? Newton and Einstein always come to mind. However, I have always like a guy named James Clerk Maxwell. You'll learn about him probably much later in the year. But he did a LOT of things, including the final synthesis that showed the world how light, electricity, and magnetism are all related. He also showed (using pure logic, pen and paper) that the rings of Saturn could not be solid objects -- that they must be made up of broken up rocks or small particles of some sort. It was really quite an amazing thing to calculate and convince people back in the mid-1800's. He won a prize and became famous by that calculation. He did a lot of other things, too, but those are what I remember about him, and I always thought he was a cool dude.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Golden Accelerator

Oct 19 3:24PM - Particle Accelerator Letdown.
14 Posts
Oh darn...there go our plans to blow up the Vatican.

Dr. Syphers, reading your profile, I was wondering...what exactly do you accomplish by accelerating gold nuclei and colliding them together? And what first attracted you to the field of physics? 

Gold atoms are made up of 79 electrons around a nucleus of 79 protons and neutrons. Actually, its only stable isotope is 197Au, which means there are 79 protons and 118 neutrons in the nucleus! Since each proton and neutron are composed of smaller particles -- called quarks -- then there's a good chance of making "quark soup" when we collide gold nuclei. So, we strip away all of the electrons and accelerate the positively charged nuclei alone to try to generate a "sea" of quarks and gluons, at densities that likely haven't happened in nature since the time of the Big Bang. See:

As for my humble beginnings, it really started for me at a young age when I became interested in the stars and planets.

Oct 19 3:27PM - Fermilab
14 Posts
Hey! In reading your profile I was wondering what exactly a fermilab is. Also, what are y'all planning on doing with the Tevatron in two years once you close it down?


Hi S,
The term "fermilab" is just short for the laboratory where I work: the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It's web site is: , in case you haven't seen it yet. Enrico Fermi was a famous physicist from the University of Chicago in the 1930-40's. He and his group were the first to generate sustainable nuclear energy from radioactive atomic nuclei and our lab is named after him.

We're still debating what to do once the Tevatron turns off. We might use it to do some different types of experiments. For instance, rather than collide beams together head on, we might use it to accelerate beams of particles and then direct them into stationary targets. We've done this before, and there are certain experiments that work well that way. Or, we might just shut it down and use the tunnel to build some different type of accelerator in the future, though we don't have a design for this use quite yet. Our budget will help determine if we can afford to keep it running, as will the various merits of the experiments that are dreamed up to use it.


Oct 19 3:28PM - B's blog
14 Posts
How much do you get paid and what exactly does your job entail in a given day? (and by this, I mean, should I enter that field of study?)


Hi B,
Personally, I think it's a great field of study. There are many uses of accelerators out there, not just for studying quarks and neutrinos, but also for medicine and industry and other uses.
Typically my day consists of many meetings, some work in our Control Room (where we run the accelerators) and sometimes I'm lucky and get to do some calculations and studies using the accelerators. But, I've been in the field for a while now; when I was younger it was less meetings and more "science." But that's OK; that's how it works. I get to travel a lot around the country and the world, have 5 weeks of vacation a year (plus holidays, etc.), and get to work with the coolest equipment, meet top scientists in all kinds of fields, have flexible work hours -- and it's just plain fun for me (most of the time). Oh, and a typical scientist at my level at Fermilab makes between 85K and 170K; I'm in the middle of that range somewhere.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

From our awesome Physics class!

From our awesome Physics class! - Oct 13 1:13PM
5 Posts
Hello Dr. Syphers! Anyways we are interested in hearing more about your job and if you could please explain in more details what the accelarator is for. What is a typical day at the Fermilab? What other areas do you dabble in? 

p.s. any chance you can help us with a project we have?

Anyway, the accelerator at Fermilab is used to smash particles together to see what happens in an attempt to understand the most basic building blocks of matter and energy, and to learn more about how the universe works. You can see much more about it at:
Typically my day consists of many meetings, some work in our Control Room (where we run the accelerators) and sometimes I'm lucky and get to do some calculations and studies using the accelerators. Besides particle acceleration, I also like to study astrophysics; it was astronomy that really got me interested in science at at young age.

p.s. -- when you say "help us with a project," exactly what did you have in mind?

Oct 14 2:26PM - Re: Re: Re: Introduction
5 Posts

 Our High School is also very small and we're lucky their has not been a situation like that in our school. 

 How is it like interacting with your students that choose to work at Fermilab with you? What are they able to do sense they have yet to graduate from collage? Is it like an internship for the students?

 Thank you for at the least, the link about dark matter. It's helpful but also lead to more questions about Fermilab. What is your position there, and do you have any involvement with cryogenics?

-BHS honors class


I have worked with college students, graduate school students, and even some high school students here at our laboratory. In general, the high school students have had "internships" where they visited here for a day every week or two during the school year (2 or 3 have done that with me over the years) or else they worked here over the summer for several weeks (5-10 students have worked with me that way). Obviously, they were from a local high school within easy driving distance to the lab. The college students (3 or 4) have been here for summer internships in-between school years. Graduate students are typically working on their PhD degrees, and are usually here full-time by the time they work with me. I've had about 4 of those students overall.

We can usually find some interesting work for students to do, from helping to build apparatus for an experiment, or do computer programming, or using existing programs to help sift through data, make plots, etc. We had a series of students over the past few summers work here helping to locate "gravitational lenses" in photographs taken with a large telescope in New Mexico that Fermilab helped to build.

My position is "Scientist" at Fermilab, and I mostly work on large particle accelerators -- their design, construction, operation, fine-tuning. Our largest accelerator -- the Tevatron -- is made up of electromagnets that have superconducting coils. These coils are cooled to cryogenic temperatures -- 4 degrees above Absolute Zero! -- where they lose all of their electrical resistance and hence operate with essentially no power loss. So, I don' myself do any cryogenic engineering, but I do use cryogenic equipment a lot.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adopt-a-Physicist Fall 2009 Physicists

Forum: Adopt-a-Physicist Fall 2009 Physicists
Thread: Michael Syphers
Title: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
- - -

Hey Michael,
Wow, that sounds like a wonderful day!! Those calculations must get pretty tricky from time to time. But, is it possible that your researching the string theory at all because K would like to know. She finds that quite interesting as well!!!!! A now wants to know what else do you do? And A2 wants to know how you got into astronomy. What made you like it at such a young age? If theres any other interesting information feel free to let us know!

Your fellow physicists...

p.s. when i say project...i mean pumpkin launcher!

- - -


Hi Guys!

K: I, personally, am not working on String Theory, but I agree that it sounds very intriguing! Of course, as a scientist, I want to see any theory make a prediction that we can test with an experiment, and as far as I know String Theory hasn't come up with such a test -- yet! But maybe it will!

A: I like photography and tennis and bicycling, though I did a lot more of all of those things when I was younger. I also enjoy traveling, which I get to do once in a while in my work.

A2: I think it was partially the Apollo space program that was going on when I was a kid that got me thinking about astronomy. Plus, the fact that I could actually see stars from my backyard. (Not so easy to do in most places these days!) My older sister bought me a book and a star chart, and then I was hooked!


WSHS responded to Mike Syphers's post ('Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!') with the following comment on Oct 16, 2009 at 12:28 PM EST

Forum: Adopt-a-Physicist Fall 2009 Physicists
Thread: Michael Syphers
Title: Re: Re: Re: Re: From our awesome Physics class!
- - -

Hey Michael, its your fellow physicists!!

We are just finishing up our topic on projectiles and now getting ready to do our pumpkin launch. Do you have any structural ideas or designs that would give us the best results to launch our pumpkin as far as possible.

We remembered you said you traveled to various places, we would like to tell you our favorite place we traveled.

D went to the Carribean
A2 went to Seabrook island in south carolina
K went to rome
A went to bahamas.

Where is your favorite place you have traveled to?

Your friends,



I haven't launched many pumpkins; but, remember: 45 degrees! (neglecting air friction, of course)

I've traveled quite a bit in my work. I've been all around the country, to Europe many times, and to Russia (Moscow, and Siberia). It's really hard to pick a favorite; I probably have favorites for different reasons. I really like the mountains, so Colorado is great, as are the Swiss Alps. For beaches, Puerto Rico is hard to beat, and Barbados and Aruba. But the beaches on the East Coast -- just for walking along and thinking -- are great, too. (The Hamptons in New York come to mind...)

In Europe, one of my favorite cities was Amsterdam, and I really enjoyed Paris, too, though most people weren't as friendly as in Amsterdam.

Have a great weekend!

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: