Posted by: DSprockett | March 29, 2013

A Very Sprockett Date Night: Physicist Sean Carroll at Sydney Uni

Since Andrea didn’t have any classes this Friday, I have been looking for a way to nice, romantic way to spend Thursday night together.  So when I came across an advert for a talk on the Higgs Boson by physicist Sean Carroll, I knew I had found my special date night activity.

We had an hour between the end of Andrea’s classes and the start of the talk, so we met at a little shop near campus to sample kangaroo kebabs. Yes, you read that correctly –they do actually eat kangaroo meat here. Now, I’m not one of those guys that sees and animal and thinks, “Wow, look at that majestic creature.  I MUST eat it!” but I have to admit I was intrigued.  However, to my great chagrin they were out of kangaroo meat, so we ended up settling for chicken and spinach pides, which are essentially the turkish equivalent of a pizza turnover.

I’ve been following Sean Carroll’s blog for several years now, but had to miss my last opportunity to see him speak in Cleveland. He was on tour for his first book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, which I am currently reading. This time around, he is promoting his new book, The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

Physicist Sean Carroll Speaking at Sydney Uni as part of their "Sydney Ideas" lecture series.

Physicist Sean Carroll Speaking at Sydney Uni as part of their “Sydney Ideas” lecture series.

He started off by explaining that he is in Sydney because of a long standing bet he made in graduate school.  His Aussie officemate bet him that scientists would never find any evidence of the Higgs Particle, and if they did, he would fly Sean out to Sydney business class to give a talk on it.

In case you aren’t following along (…or have been living under a rock for the past year), a huge, multinational team of scientists did in fact find evidence of the elusive Higgs Boson, and with great fanfare announced it to the world on July 4, 2012.  Sean’s talk outlined this history of this momentous discovery, and attempted to answer the age-old question…So What’s The Big Deal?

Quite alot, as it turns out. I can’t even attempt to describe everything covered in the talk, but it was recorded for ABC’s Big Idea’s series, so I’ll post the video here if it ever becomes available online. But briefly, the Higg’s Boson can be thought of as a manifestation of the Higg’s field, which was proposed by a whole team of physicists in the 1960’s in part to explain the behavior of the strong and weak nuclear forces. Around the same time, physicist Steven Weinberg was trying to explain the movement of electrons, but his model of the system would only work if particles of electrons were massless. Electrons aren’t massless, of course, but Weinberg realized that if there was in fact a Higg’s field, it would give give mass to electrons and other particles.

Now, I don’t really know what any of this means beyond what I’ve been told, but my understanding is that The Big Deal with the discovery of the Higgs was that it essentially validated alot of our models of how the universe works at a very fundamental level.

Carroll ended his talk by looking toward the future, emphasizing that although the discovery of the Higgs was the last piece of the puzzle to understanding a large swath of how Nature works, the work of physics is far from over. He briefly touched on several unresolved issues, such as the enormous amount of Dark Matter in the universe that we know next to nothing about, and how new theories like supersymmetry might begin to address them.  I even got to ask a question about supersymmetry during the extensive Question and Answer period, as I like to do. The lecture hall was jam-packed, and the audience was full of surprisingly interesting and well-informed questions.

All-in-all, it was a fascinating talk, and a nice chance to spend time with my wife while having our minds’ stretched a bit.

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Responses

  1. “the particle at the end of the university” you reckon

    • Whoops – good catch. Cheers Ollie!


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