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In this issue:
symmetry: Explain the Higgs Boson in 60 Seconds
Dorfan Today: Kids Day
SULI Students Celebrate a Summer at SLAC
Photo of the Moment: Oh Deer

SLAC Today

Monday - August 21, 2006

symmetry: Explain the Higgs Boson in 60 Seconds

(Image - Representation of Higgs Boson)

The Higgs boson, a fundamental particle predicted by theorist Peter Higgs, may be the key to understanding why elementary particles have mass. Explaining the connection, I am reminded of the puzzler, "If sound cannot travel in a vacuum, why are vacuum cleaners so noisy?" This riddle actually touches on a profound insight of modern physics: the vacuum—or empty space—is far from empty. It is indeed "noisy" and full of virtual particles and force fields. The origin of mass seems to be related to this phenomenon.

In Einstein's theory of relativity, there is a crucial difference between massless and massive particles: All massless particles must travel at the speed of light, whereas massive particles can never attain this ultimate speed. But, how do massive particles arise? Higgs proposed that the vacuum contains an omnipresent field that can slow down some (otherwise massless) elementary particles—like a vat of molasses slowing down a high-speed bullet. Such particles would behave like massive particles traveling at less than light speed. Other particles—such as the photons of light—are immune to the field: they do not slow down and remain massless.  Read more...

(Director's Column - Dorfan Today)

Kids Day

(Photo - Kids Day)
To view a video of Kids Day highlights, click on the image above. If you are a SLAC employee and do not have Real Media Player installed on your computer, you can download it here.
(Footage courtesy of Cynthia Gehrie, edited by Chip Dalby.)

In considering the success of Kids Day 2006 and this year's Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships, I am reminded of the importance of making science accessible to the next generation. In both programs, SLAC creates opportunities to communicate what we do, and also helps fulfill a responsibility to the next generation to provide a sense of the daily workings of science.

Kids Day 2006 was the biggest and best yet. Across the lab, I saw children and educators alike beaming all day. With two volunteers for every child, participants had the supportive and safe environment in which they could let their ideas flourish. Kids Day owes its success to the untiring volunteers who clearly made extra effort to create a memorable day for all. A day like this can change a child's life and trigger a permanent interest in science, and I believe this year's event did just that.

We’ve created a brief video of highlights from the day that captures the scope and excitement of the activities. It is accessible here by clicking on the image above.

Similarly, SULI offered a chance for exceptional students to conduct rigorous science. Mentors offered intensive research projects to traditionally underrepresented groups. At the awards ceremony Friday, it was clear that students came away with a profound sense of accomplishment, as well as a deeper understanding of what lies ahead in their chosen careers.

The importance of such efforts are underscored by Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a recent National Academies of Science report (link here) that summarizes opportunities and challenges in improving the United States' economic future. Although the report's tone is that of concern for America’s education system and its consequent ability to compete globally, its prognosis is a boon to SLAC. It lists ideas as the utmost importance to competitiveness, and asserts that science, math, and technology are the “fields which underpin most innovation.” The report recommends much stronger support for K-12 science education and for initiatives to ensure that the best and brightest are drawn towards science at university level. By organizing programs like Kids Day and SULI, SLAC is doing its part to help improve science education in the U.S.

The success of both Kids Day and SULI is the result of the enormous number of volunteer-hours provided by our staff. But more than that, it’s the staff that create the format and the organization for each program, that provide the ideas for the projects, and that build the demonstration equipment for Kids Day interactive stations. We all owe those many volunteers a great debt of gratitude—they have made an exceptionally important contribution to the education and inspiration of young minds.

More images are available here.

SULI Students Celebrate a Summer at SLAC

(Photo - SULI students)
SLAC's Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship graduates for 2006.
(Click on image for larger version.)

Students and SLAC mentors celebrated the completion of DOE's Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) with a lunch and awards ceremony Friday. Over the past eight weeks, 23 students conducted new research, wrote a paper on their findings, and presented their work, each under a SLAC mentor.

SULI is intended to help underrepresented groups gain experience in science. SLAC has hosted the summer science program (in its various forms) for 36 years.

"It was exciting to do research that professionals are doing as well," said Hugh Desmond, from the Catholic University of Leuwen, Belgium. "What we're doing doesn't have a textbook solution." Desmond, a senior in mathematics, created simulations of how gamma ray bursts will spread from black holes, under KIPAC astrophysicist Weiqun Zhang. "I'm sure (my time at SULI) will influence my direction."

In discussing physics papers related to the project with Desmond, Zhang found errors in a published formula. "Without his questions, I probably would have used that formula in my own calculations," said Zhang.

For the first year in 30 years, graduate students served as SULI program directors. "I always wanted to teach as a professor, but I dreamed it would be easy," said program director Adam Edwards. "There are a lot of dynamics when it comes to a program like this."

Photo of the Day:
Oh Deer

(Photo - deer)
Photo courtesy of Diana Rogers.
(Click on image for larger version.)

One of SLAC's more elusive residents, this black-tailed deer—sometimes also called a mule deer—was spotted by SLAC photographer Diana Rogers. The antlers on this buck have recently been stripped of their moss, which means he's been readying himself for a busy mating season.

Rogers said this is the first buck she's seen in a few years, but Stanford biologist Alan Launer assures that the deer population around SLAC and Stanford is healthy. Launer said that these deer do very well in areas where people live, and can thrive on a diet of landscaping plants.

"Sometimes they can actually be a nuisance," Launer said. "The only predators they have around here are mountain lions and cars."

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