March 5, 2004  


New SLAC Public Lecture Series Energizes its Audience

By Kate Metropolis

"After the electrons and positrons in our linear accelerator have gone just ten or fifteen yards, they are already traveling at 99.999999999 percent of the speed of light. It’s hard to make them go any faster, but along the remainder of our two-mile-long accelerator we pump them full of energy."

Neil Calder (COM) was the speaker at the first public lecture in the series. (Photo by Joni White)

Images of coffee cups fill the auditorium screen.

"More and more energy."

Drawings of coffee pots fill the screen.

"They are really very, very, very buzzed."

The audience of non-physicists laughs with relief: this public lecture isn’t going to hurt, after all. It’s going to be comprehensible. It’s going to be fun.

There was a full house in Panofsky Auditorium on the evening of February 24, when Neil Calder (COM) launched the SLAC public lecture series with a talk entitled, "What Goes on Inside the World’s Longest Building?"

Seventy-five minutes later, the audience had been greeted, on film, by people from around the world drawn to SLAC because of what the world’s longest building makes possible. They had learned that SLAC is managed by Stanford for the DOE’s Office of Science. They had watched a movie in which a Snickers bar collides with an anti-Snickers bar to create M&Ms and anti-M&Ms, gummy bears and anti-gummy bears, to illustrate that PEP-II produces new particles.

They had heard that BABAR is helping to resolve the mystery of why there is vastly more matter than anti-matter in the Universe, when equal amounts of both were likely present in the beginning. They had seen the crispness of images made at SPEAR of osteoporitic bone as well as an illustration of the GLAST gamma-ray detector.

After the talk, the lobby was packed with people asking questions. They were fielded by an impressive team of strategically placed physicists, mostly graduate students: Christopher Barnes (ARDB), Adam Edwards, Christian Flacco, Steve Sekula, Eileen Sneeden and Michael Wilson (all of BABAR).

The series was conceived by physicists—users of SLAC’s many resources—who want to inform the public about the value of SLAC in a jargon-free, entertaining way. Emily Ball (COM), the event’s publicist, called the event an excellent success. "We created the opportunity for our community to better understand what we do here."

In twos and threes, 325 neighbors of SLAC slowly filtered out into the night very, very buzzed.

For more information on future lectures, visit:



The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Tuesday March 02, 2004 by Emily Ball