The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

Einstein’s Big Idea Rocks

WOW! I’m speechless. NOVA has outdone itself. My father e-mailed me excitedly earlier tonight to heap praise on “Einstein’s Big Idea”. It was really a remarkable combination of drama, history, and science. I’ve always liked “Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens” for that reason, but this takes the damn cake.

What I really liked was that there were people I know in this program. At the end, when they talk about the relevance of “E=mc2” to understanding the origin of the universe and show SLAC, those are all people I know! “Caolionn O’Connell”: was the young woman looking pensive in all the shots (and staring at the sun, which ought to be really bad… but this is TV!). “Mike Kelsey”: was the bearded man wearing the wild shirt, a BaBar physicist with whom I’ve worked many times in the past.

And, a point of pride for me lies in all of this. I’ve had the pleasure to be the “event display physicist” for the BaBar collaboration for several years. In this role, I’ve worked with Serge Du, Mark Donszelmann, and Joseph Perl on the BaBar event display. Serge and Joe were responsible for the original implementation of the HepRep file standard in BaBar, making it possible to export BaBar data graphically as a HepRep image, which is renderable with the WIRED viewer. WIRED was developed by Mark and Joe, and over the last few years Joe and I have worked closely on growing WIRED3 as a user-friendly event display for BaBar. This colorful display was featured in a fairly long visual shot of the BaBar control room. It’s the brightly colored one with the black background.

Working in visualization has always been described to me as a thankless job. Not so. Just seeing my fellow physicists using and reacting (and yes, even criticizing) the display, seeing them generating images of their events, and seeing the display featured in public displays and documentaries, is more than a reward. It reminds me, of course, that there is much to do to complete that work.