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Minutes of Theory Net Meeting, January 12
Physics TheoryNet Meeting, January 12, 2012
Room 218 Dana Building, Northeastern University
Mike Wadness, Medford HS
Rick Dower, Roxbury Latin School
Matthew Headrick, Brandeis University
Chris Siren, Groton-Dunstable Regional HS
Richard Levergood, Londonderry HS
Scott Goelzer, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy
Brent Nelson, Northeastern University
Ken Olum, Tufts University
John Samperisi, Monadnock HS
Nancy Najmi, Reading Memorial HS
Noreen Scarpitto, Reading Memorial HS
Nick Nicastro, Wachusett Regional HS
Elaine Picard, Concord-Carlisle H.S.
Don Fries, Community School, Tamworth, NH
Michael Hirsh, Needham H.S.
Per Berglund, University of New Hampshire
Brandon Murakami, Rhode Island College
Tomasz Taylor, Northeastern Unuversity
Lara Anderson, Harvard University
Ann Kaiser, La Salle Academy
Nivedi Das, Sharon H.S.
Albion Lawrence, Brandeis University
Tasneem Zahra Husain
Jesse Thaler, MIT
Jose Juan Blanco-Pillado, Tufts University
Xi Yin, Harvard
A. Building Access
Our meeting got off to a bit of a delayed start. Tom Taylor, our normal facilitator, came down abruptly
with the flu that has been so talked about in the news. Our normal fill in, Brent Nelson, came a bit late
to find the door locked -- but most of the TheoryNet participants inside. Thanks to Rick Dower for finding
the open door on the engineering side of the building! Apologies to everyone who might have missed us or
waited out in the cold.
B. Fall School Visits
B1) Nivedi Das/Ken Olum
No visit in the fall.
B2) Rick Dower/Tasmeen Zahra Husain
Tasmeen was scheduled to come in early January, but came down with the flu just prior to the scheduled
date. Hopefully she will be able to come later in the spring. Rick mentioned that the students were eager
to try their hand at four-dimensional tic-tac-toe on game boards he has recently constructed!
B3) Scott Goelzer/Per Berglund
B4) Richard Levergood/Per Berglund
Per visited two schools in New Hampshire this fall. In Londonderry Per spoke to the honors physics class
for about an hour and a half. At Coe-Brown he spoke to two honrs classes the week before Thanksgiving. As
it happened, the students had seen a few clips from Brian Green's "Elegant Universe" the day before the
visit. Per's presentation took a historical approach, describing topics and ideas that came together over
time to ultimately lead to concepts in string theory today. This confirmed some of the very same topics
that had been discussed in the Elegant Universe video. The students especially appreciated the Brian Green
anecdotes (Brian is an in-exhaustible supplier of these!). Additional topics included the Higgs discovery
at the LHC and how one becomes a scientist. The discussion even spilled into the next day!
B5) Nancy Najmi & Noreen Scarpitto/Lara Anderson
Lara came to visit Noreen to discuss elementary particle physics and especially the recent Higgs discovery
at the LHC. The students found the discussion easy to follow and engaging, despite the somewhat esoteric
nature of the Higgs, and particle physics generally. Lara shared some aspects of her own career path with
the students, who found this exremely valuable. In particular, she discussed the college application
process and how to begin thinking about college based on her own experience. One of the most important
pieces of advice she left for the students was this: be passionate about what you want to do and convey
that passion in your application!
B6) Chris Siren/Matthew Headrick
Matt and Alejandra Casto, a postdoc from Harvard, visited Groton-Dunstable. The two spoke to an honors
physics class in the morning and astronomy class later in the day. Some of the disucssions involved
careers in physics, or more specifically, what sorts of careers one can have with a physics degree that do
NOT involve being a physicist. Alejandra also discussed what it was like to move internationally (she is
origianlly from Chile). The physics discussion centered on black holes, which eventually became quite
observational. The was a happy development, given that the next day the class visited the Haystack Radio
Observatory which is making observations relevant to this area -- particularly of the conjectured black
hole at the center of the Milky Way. Students were later asked to give feedback on the visit. About half
the respondents mentioned something about the physics topics they heard about, while the other half found
something about the nature of being a physicist to be the most interesting.
B7) Mike Wadness/Jesse Thaler
Jesse came to Medford HS with the intention of opening up with questions from the students, and using
prepared topics only as a backup. As it happened, the students had enough questions to more or less fill
up his visit. Some of the questions were about physics, but the majority seemed to be about careers in
physics and how one gets to be a theoretical physicist. As with Matt Headrick, when students were asked to
provide feedback about what they found interesting, they were as likely to mention something about Jesse's
biography as about the physics topics discussed. Some students in the class even wrote a short article
about the visit for the student newspaper for extra credit. The article became part of the grant proposal
submitted in December.
The electron diffraction experiment was borrowed by Chris Siren and Mike Wadness borrowed the Milikan
D. General Discussion
D1) Grant update
The TheoryNet program was separated from the Northeastern University High Energy Theory grant for the
purposes of renewing the funding, under the suggestion of the Theoretical Physics Program director at the
NSF. This allowed us to expand the description of the program and separate the budget from that of the
research activities of the HET group. The submission was made in early December and we hope to hear from
the NSF this spring. Thank you to everyone who provided material for the supplementary sections of the
grant proposal -- the final product was very impressive and makes a strong argument for renewal.
D2) Resources for students
It was suggested that in some cases it might be nice for speakers to suggest resources which high school
students might be able to read in advance of a visit to trigger additional questions or discussion. The
previous TheoryNet meeting minutes had links to material related to the recent Higgs discovery, but
materials on more esoteric topics like string theory are harder to find. Not every visit would benefit
from advanced reading, but as materials are identified (or developed internally by our participants) it
would be nice to circulate them and, perhaps, archive them on the TheoryNet website.
E. Next Meeting
We scheduled the final meeting of the academic year for May 11, with May 18 as an alternate date.
Department of Physics
110 Forsyth Street
111 Dana Research Center
Boston, MA 02115