Adventures of the Mind

This week I had two immense pleasures. The first, in order of occurance, was the chance to present the case for a suite of non-standard physics (so-called “exotic” physics) to my BaBar colleagues. The second was to participate in a SLAC site tour for talented 16-18 year-olds from all over the U.S. participating in the “Adventures of the Mind” program.

Non-standard physics. That’s the stuff you try to search for with an experiment that is already funded and vetted. Well, at least, that’s one definition. BaBar has spent years using very complicated analyses to not only understand the universe, but also to understand its own instrumentation. One of the critical things any experimenter will learn is that they never really understand their equipment at first. It can take a long time – years, in this case – to really feel comfortable with all the benefits and idiosyncracies of your experiment.

Many of us on BaBar feel that this is the time to use what we’ve learned about the detector to look for some really exotic physics. I presented on behalf of my colleagues in this endeavor at our Wednesday physics meeting, where the collaboration weekly meets to learn about new proposals for the experiment and about analyses nearing completion. I got to talk about some of the prospects for searching for extra dimensions of space with BaBar, about looking for direct evidence for supersymmetry, and about looking for Standard Model-violating or very, very rare decays. The material and the motivation were well received, and we’ve been encouraged to proceed to the next step: proposing changes to the BaBar trigger system to better accept these exotic signatures.

Today, after recovering from a mostly sleepless night before my Wednesday talk, I had the pleasure of helping to lead a tour of bright high-school students from across the U.S. These folks were at SLAC for the “Adventures of the Mind” program, an eclectic sampling of intellectualism from art, music, athletics, and science. My colleague, Michael Mazur, a graduate student on the BaBar experiment, led the tour and I helped out. Michael is one of the really fabulous SLAC tour guides, so if you’ve never been to SLAC and you see this, come to the lab to get a great tour from him.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the students and talking to her about the mathematics underlying the Standard Model. It was really exciting to be able to speak about linear algebra, gauge symmetry, and grand unification with such a bright and sharp young mind. I can’t recall if I was ever like that in my teens, but it reminded of just how wonderful teaching can be. She happens to go to school near Fermilab, at a school founded by Leon Lederman, so I hope to help her learn how to pursue an internship or fellowship at Fermilab. She was VERY excited about the idea of getting involved in particle physics, and it was refreshing to have a chance to talk about this wonderful frontier science with the next generation of scientist.

Ah. It’s so satisfying to have a week rich with physics and with education. That’s what being an academic is all about.

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