Nobel laureate occasionally hangs out on street corners, answering physics questions

This morning, I got to spend a little time chatting with Daniel Bowring, a physicist who designs particle accelerators for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. During our conversation, Daniel told me about something really cool. On at least two separate occasions, once in New York City and once in Chicago, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman has basically just set a card table up on a street corner and allowed all comers to bring him their physics questions.

I was imagining something like "Particle Physics Advice: 5 cents", which is a little off. But not by much. In the video above, you can see him in New York, hanging out in front of a wipe board that says "ASK A NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING PHYSICIST!" (Another sign to Lederman's left just has a picture of a model of the atom and an arrow pointing at him.)

It's pretty damn wonderful. And Lederman is great at quickly making physics concepts understandable. Enjoy! (And keep your eyes peeled. I really hope he does this again sometime.) Read the rest

Higgs on Higgs

Peter Higgs (of the Higgs Boson Higgses) would like to correct a couple of misconceptions.

First off, the discovery of the Higgs Boson (if that is, indeed, what has been discovered) neither proves nor disproves the existence of a deity. In fact, the Higgs Boson has nothing to do with God at all. It's important to physicists, sure. As we've talked about here before, Higgs Bosons are thought to be a key part of explaining why some sub-atomic particles have more mass than others. But that does not really overlap with religious significance. In fact, according to Higgs, the name "God Particle" is actually a politeness-corrupted version of "Goddam Particle"—so called because the goddam particle was so difficult to find.

Second: Over the last couple of days, you may have been wondering what practical applications could come out of the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Peter Higgs has a response for that. To paraphrase: "Damned if I know."

“It’s around for a very short time. It’s probably about a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. I don’t know how you apply that to anything useful," Higgs said.

“It’s hard enough with particles which have longer life times for decay to make them useful. Some of the ones which have life times of only maybe a millionth of a second or so are used in medical applications. How you could have an application of this thing which is very short lived, I have no idea.”

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