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SSI 2010 Students Get a Glimpse of Neutrinos

(Photo - SSI students)
(Photo by Lori Ann White.)

Last Friday marked the end of the 38th annual SLAC Summer Institute, during which more than 150 graduate students, post-docs and researchers attended two weeks of lectures, topical mini-conferences, and opportunities for in-depth discussions with visiting experts, all in an effort to get to know "Neutrinos: Nature's Mysterious Messengers."

"Of all the known particles, neutrinos are the most mysterious," explained JoAnne Hewett, one of SSI's four program directors, "yet they're all around us. They played an essential role in the evolution of the universe."

SSI's particular focus, though, was the role of neutrinos in the evolution of young scientists. Along with the lectures, discussions and mini-conferences, SSI 2010 offered a variety of social events such as dinners, SLAC tours, an opportunity to present posters on current research and the traditional SLAC versus SSI soccer game. On the weekend the students organized their own trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and several missed the start of the final sessions because of a late night Perseid meteor-watching session.

"The kids seemed to have a great time," Hewett said with a laugh. "We got them started" with group dinners, she said, "and they took over." Hewett warned not to downplay the social aspects of SSI. "These students will be colleagues throughout their careers, and the bonds that are formed now at places such as SSI stay throughout their life."

(Photo - SSI soccer game)
A slice of the action during the 2010 SSI versus SLAC soccer game. Some said SSI outscored SLAC by one goal; others disputed that score.
(Photo by Lori Ann White.)

The students said they appreciated the social activities but reserved their highest praise for the quality of the speakers and course content. Katie Richardson, a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, said she liked the discussion sessions, which she termed "quality time with the experts."

"Most of the speakers have been fantastic," said Geoffrey Ryan, a graduate student at the University of Alberta. "It's motivating me to be a better speaker and teacher."

"SSI is an institution recognized by the worldwide particle physics community and some professors send their students here every year," said Hewett, now in her eighth year as an SSI program director. "There are lab directors from around the world who have attended SSI. It's a real training ground for graduate students."

As Geoffrey Ryan, the graduate student from the University of Alberta, said at the soccer game: "There are young people in physics I can actually talk to." He lifted his can of soda to his new friends. "You guys are awesome."

Trillions of neutrinos whizzed past the discussion, but were unavailable for comment.

óLori Ann White
SLAC Today, August 19, 2010