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SASS Celebrates 100th Seminar

Yesterday afternoon, SASS co-founder Wells Wulsin presented the series' 100th seminar. "It sounds like it had to be staged, but it's really just a coincidence that this happens to be my talk," he said. "I signed up for one of two empty slots at the last SASS planning meeting, and only after that did we calculate which would be the 100th SASS talk." (Photo by Kelen Tuttle.)

Yesterday afternoon, more than two dozen graduate students gathered in the Kavli Building to take part in a milestone: the 100th SLAC Association for Student Seminars talk.

"That we're celebrating our 100th talk means that SASS has legs to go on for a long time in the future," said SASS co-founder Wells Wulsin. "I think it fills an important role at the lab, that's very valuable to the many students who work here."

The current SASS czars, who organize the group's once-a-week lectures, agree. "SASS is really the only presence of grad students throughout SLAC, offering a sense of community while also uniting all of the areas of science at SLAC, from photon science to theory to particle physics ," said SASS czar Andrew Larkoski, a graduate student in the theory department.

"It's a great forum to realize that you're not alone here at SLAC," added SASS czar Catherine Graves, a graduate student in photon science. "It's great to give talks and get feedback; but equally important is also the ability to meet other graduate students over cookies."

The idea for SASS was hatched by Wulsin and Manuel Franco Sevilla over lunch at SLAC's Linear Café in late 2007. "We were looking for a way to create a forum for students to get together and learn from one another in a context that encouraged a lot of discussion," Wulsin said. At the time, Wulsin and Franco Sevilla didn't know how long the seminar series would last. The reason it continues strong, Wulsin said, is that "we've been able to find really good czars to take over every six months. All 12 of them have contributed something new to the organization, be that a constitution, a fancy Web site or getting the director of SLAC to come talk to us."

In the 100th SASS talk, Wulsin presented the theory of quantum electrodynamics, which explains the interaction between light and matter. "I read [Richard] Feynman's book [QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter] over the winter break last year and it really blew my mind," he said. "It was so accessible—it was a way of presenting quantum mechanics that I think physicists should be more comfortable with. It gives us a way to explain what we do to a general audience."

Wulsin's talk, which was very well received, may have been the 100th SASS lecture, but it will surely not be the last. In two weeks, on October 6, SASS will hold an organizational meeting where students can sign up to give a talk in the fall quarter.

"That we've reached 100 means we have a presence," Larkoski said. "There is a strong graduate presence at SLAC, and SASS plays a role in bringing [the students] together."

—Kelen Tuttle
SLAC Today, September 23, 2010