Tag Archives: PublicTalks

Science and the Common Good: A College Visit

Yesterday I gave a public talk at Ursinus College, a liberal arts college in aptly named Collegeville, Pennsylvania. [For those outside the U.S.; a `college’ in the U.S. is a university whose students are all undergraduates, mainly 18-22 years old; and a “liberal arts college”  aims to give students a broad education in the arts and sciences, along with more focused training in their chosen discipline.] My visit was sponsored by the college’s Center for Science and the Common Good, an impressive little program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (kudos to them!).  Its goal is to assure that the Center’s `fellows’ — the students in the program — are not only trained in their scientific fields but also become versed in thinking broadly about the role of science in our culture and society, and about how science is communicated to the public.

These wider issues are ones I think about a lot — I myself was educated at a liberal arts college — and are what motivated me to start this website and blog.  So I was honored that the Center invited me to visit. And they kept me (pleasantly) busy! In addition to the public talk, I spoke at length with the fellows of the Center about the role of science and scientists in society, as well as about the Center’s program and their career plans, and I also gave the undergraduate physics majors a slightly more technical tour of modern particle physics.

Since the Center was my host, my public talk was somewhat different from ones I’ve given previously.  Rather than focus entirely on the science behind the Higgs particle and field, I included some comments concerning the role of scientists in communicating science to the public. Among the meta-scientific questions I touched on were these:

  • What role should and can be played by blogs and websites run by scientists?
  • Can (or should) anything be done about the wildly inaccurate science reporting that one so often sees in the media?
  • Is it really that important that the public be informed about scientific research — given that public knowledge of the details of law, medicine, construction, accounting, plumbing, and other technical fields is also very limited?

I’ve got my own (tentative) answers to these questions, but if you’d like to weigh in, I’d be interested in your opinions. (If you do decide to make a comment, please feel free to include a parenthetic remark describing how much science you yourself know, and whether you learned it, say, in college, from magazines or popular books, etc.  This will give us all some perspective on what might shape your views.)

Thanks again to Ursinus College for the invitation and a very interesting visit!

European Weather Model Does It Again?

We’re gearing up for another big-time storm predicted for the northeastern United States — we’ve had more than we need over recent months — so before we perhaps lose power (or you do)…

…I want to remind you that Sean Carroll and I were interviewed last night by science writer Alan Boyle.  My impression is that the conversation (which touched on issues involving the Higgs particle, dark matter, and the nature of science as a process) went well, and I hope that you enjoy it.  Just click on this link http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtually-speaking-science/2013/02/07/sean-carroll-matt-strassler-alan-boyle , endure the commercial, and you should get the radio broadcast (just about 60 minutes).

As for that big blizzard threatening Boston with over two feet (0.6 meters) of snow, and winds over 60 miles (100 km) per hour, along with some coastal flooding, it is interesting that the European Weather Model, which did the better job on forecasting Hurricane Sandy, appears to be doing better on this one too.  The US-based Global Forecasting System may again have been a bit late to the party.  The difference in the scientific approach of the two forecasting models was described in a previous post, after Sandy, thanks to one of my readers; if you missed it then, you may find it worth a read now.

Well, it will be interesting to see how the reality plays out; but given how well the European model forecast Sandy, it would seem prudent not to underestimate this storm.  Be careful out there!

[Note Added: Julianne Dalcanton, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, pointed me to her university colleague Cliff Mass’s article about various problems at the US National Weather Forcasting agency.  See also this article.  This is seriously disturbing stuff, if you live in the U.S.]

A Surprising Higgs? (Higgs Symposium Summary, Continued)

A quick reminder that tonight at 6 Pacific/9 Eastern, Sean Carroll and I will be interviewed by Alan Boyle on the online radio show “Virtually Speaking Science”.  Topics will cover the LHC and other hot issues in physics, astrophysics, gravity and cosmology, as well as the scientific process.  See Monday’s post for the link to the show and other details.

Continuing my more careful summary of the Higgs Symposium (held January 9-11 at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the new Higgs Center for Theoretical Physics), and improving on my quick blog posts that I put up during and just after the symposium (#1, #2 and #3), I’ve finished another article about our current knowledge and ignorance concerning the recently discovered Higgs-like particle.  The new article

covers a topic that I spoke about extensively at the Symposium.  The other completed articles in this series are

One or two more segments to go.



Wednesday: Sean Carroll & I Interviewed by Alan Boyle

On Wednesday February 6th, at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific time, Sean Carroll and I will be interviewed by Alan Boyle on “Virtually Speaking Science”.   The link where you can listen in (in real time or at your leisure) is http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtually-speaking-science/2013/02/07/sean-carroll-matt-strassler-alan-boyle

What is “Virtually Speaking Science“?  It is an online radio program that presents, according to its website:

  • Informal conversations hosted by science writers Alan Boyle, Tom Levenson and Jennifer Ouellette, who explore the explore the often-volatile landscape of science, politics and policy, the history and economics of science, science deniers and its relationship to democracy, and the role of women in the sciences.

Sean Carroll is a Caltech physicist, astrophysicist, writer and speaker, one of the founders of the blog Cosmic Variance, who recently completed an excellent popular book (which I highly recommend) on the Higgs particle, entitled “The Particle at the End of the Universe“.  Our interviewer Alan Boyle is a noted science writer, author of the book “The Case for Pluto“, winner of many awards, and currently NBC News Digital’s science editor [at the blog  “Cosmic Log“].

I was interviewed on Virtually Speaking Science once before, by Tom Levenson, about the Large Hadron Collider (here’s the link).  Also, my public talk “The Quest for the Higgs Particle” is posted in their website (here’s the link to the audio and to the slides).


Colloquia Here and There

This Wednesday I was visiting the University of Massachusetts, in the currently colorful town of Amherst, where I gave a colloquium (an hour-long talk aimed at a physics department’s undergraduate majors, graduate students and faculty who are not themselves experts in particle physics) entitled The Quest for the Higgs Boson.  It’s similar to the one I gave two weeks ago at the University of Toronto, which is available on-line now. There’s audio and there are slides, but no video, so I’m afraid you’ll have to figure out on your own how the slides and audio fit together; but I think it should be fairly obvious.

If, however, you’re not a physicist or physics student, but you have been following particle physics a little bit, perhaps by reading this blog or Scientific American articles or books for laypeople by, say, Brian Greene or Lisa Randall, then you might instead want to try listening to this lecture I gave recently, which is also in the form of an audio feed plus slides.  It makes far fewer assumptions about what audience members are familiar with.  And of course there’s always my [in]famous video clips from my March 2011 public lecture on the Large Hadron Collider; a bit out of date since they were made before the new Higgs-like particle was found, but still basically covering what you need to know.

Please note these presentations are under copyright.

What Fields Are (& a Public Talk Saturday)

To the five articles in my very-slightly-mathy series on Fields and Particles [sorry, the non-mathy series will be probably appear a couple of months from now] I have now added a 6th:

  1. Ball on a Spring (Classical)
  2. Ball on a Spring (Quantum)
  3. Waves (Classical Form)
  4. Waves (Classical Equation of Motion)
  5. Waves (Quantum)
  6. Fields (new!)
  7. Particles (coming next week)

Meanwhile, I remind you that I’m giving a talk on-line, about The Quest for the Higgs Particle. No math required there. (Saturday, September 8th, 1 p.m. New York time/10 a.m. Pacific, through the MICA Popular Talks series, held online at the Large Auditorium on StellaNova, Second Life.  You’ll need a Second Life viewer to watch it live.  Should you miss it, both the audio and the slides will be posted later for you to look at.)  And also, if you missed my colleague Sean Carroll being interviewed about his new book and the science behind the Higgs Discovery, an opportunity I recommended to you yesterday, all is not lost; you can hear it here.

Two Online Events on Higgs Discovery

My friend and colleague Sean Carroll, of the Cosmic Variance blog, who has a very good new book about the Higgs particle and its discovery, is being interviewed by Alan Boyle today as part of the Virtually Speaking Science series.  Listen live 9 pm eastern | 6 pm pacific, or later, at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtually-speaking-science/2012/09/06/sean-carroll-alan-boyle .  Sean is an excellent speaker and writer; highly recommended!

And I myself am giving a public lecture about the Quest for the Higgs Particle this Saturday, September 8th, 1 p.m. New York time/10 a.m. Pacific, through the MICA Popular Talks series, held online at the Large Auditorium on StellaNova, Second Life.  You’ll need a Second Life viewer to watch it live.  Should you miss it, both the audio and the slides will be posted later for you to look at.  (I gave one of these talks, on the Large Hadron Collider, back in April, but the sound quality over the web was a bit problematic; hopefully it will be better this time.)



Einstein, History and Science

On Saturday I gave a lecture, newly minted, on how Einstein is perceived in the public eye, and on how the numerous misconceptions about Einstein affect the way many non-experts believe that science is actually carried out.  Doing the research for the lecture involved, among other things, going back to some original sources I’d never read or had only read a long time ago, looking a bit at Einstein’s notebook from the period around 1912 (online here), and re-reading large portions of a wonderful biography of Einstein that I’m afraid was written by a physicist for physicists — and consequently largely unreadable without technical background, but a must-read for anyone who has that background.  I refer here to Abram Pais’s famous biography: “Subtle is the Lord…”, whose title refers to Einstein’s famous quip: “Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.”  (You can read about the origin of this quip in Pais’s book.)

I also enjoyed tracking down some videos online of various physical effects that Einstein explained, or that he predicted in advance.  These included videos (linked below) of Continue reading