Of Particular Significance

Science and the Public

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 10/16/2011

From the very existence of this website, you may rightly infer that I feel some members of the scientific community ought to commit to educating the public about the content and process of science. At a minimum, since my research, and that of my colleagues, is largely paid for by taxpayers, the public has the right to know and understand what it is getting for its money. Also, science underpins our technological society, and yet it seems mysterious and frightening to a good many people, so it’s important that the subject be demystified. And finally, it’s wonderful and exciting stuff, so it’s a real shame if the public knows little about it.

Aside from this site, another way I communicate ideas to the public is through public lectures. I’ve given a number of talks for laypeople in the past (some video clips from one of them are available), mostly at bars. Perhaps a little beer makes people more at ease when facing concepts such as hadrons and Higgs particles. It also perhaps makes them comfortable asking questions; I find the question and answer session is the most interesting and challenging part of the event. There are always some really great questions; it’s impressive how far self-educated non-experts can go. I do think it’s a lot easier to educate yourself now about high-energy physics and related fields than it was when I was a teenager; you can go read Lisa Randall’s most recent book, or watch the excellent pedagogical lectures by physicists such as Lenny Susskind (one of my mentors) or Sean Carroll (from Cosmic Variance).

I’ll be trying something new today, giving a talk to a small group of adults in a private setting. This will be an interesting experiment. I suspect the event will fall somewhere between a lecture and a conversation.  A lecture to a hall of 300 people obviously doesn’t allow a conversation with the audience, but with 20… maybe that is small enough. In New York, there are quite a few house concerts being organized: a musician or group that is trying to build a following, or try out some new repertoire, will play a few works or songs to a small audience of perhaps 20 to 30 people. Personally I think house conversations about science would be a great addition to the genre!

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6 Responses

  1. Dear Prof. Strassler,

    It is indeed a way for layman to further educate themselves without being able to attend classes while deeply involved in jobs outside of the academic sciences and the halls of learning.

    The PI Institute in Canada has provide informational links/videos of lectures through their website and I have found other institutions have done this as well.

    That you feel this responsibility to the public for awareness being provided is very important in my view and have applauded many who have felt the same way as you do.

    So thank for what your are doing for helping a layman like myself to learn.


    1. Thanks for your comments. Actually I visit the P.I. a few times a year, and have written a paper recently with two of their young faculty, so I know a lot about their remarkable efforts…

  2. Prof. Strassler,

    I would say that is a fantastic effort on your part! Wish there were more such lectures for us science fans to learn from and interact with those on the “inside”.


  3. Dear Prof. Strassler,

    do You know if Prof. Susskind has published online some lecture notes; in particular for String / M-theory and this new follow up course?


    Somebody has taken notes and put them online here:


    But some PDFs are damaged and the two string courses are not included at all :-/…
    I alway liked to watch a video one day and then recapitulate the lecture using (and correcting…) the notes I linked to the next day 🙂 …

    1. I do not know what Susskind has done about lecture notes, but I would think if they existed it would be easy to find them online. If anyone else knows, please comment…

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