Nobel laureate conference

There’s a very interesting conference going on at Lake Constance (der Bodensee) this week, the Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau. There are a whole bunch of talks by Nobel laureates on diverse aspects of science, with several excellent talks on physics. The talks can be viewed on-line here.

For those interested in particle physics, there was a panel session devoted to expectations for the LHC experiments at CERN. I got these links from Peter Woit’s weblog NOT EVEN WRONG, and Peter has a discussion of the LHC session on his blog.

As regards the online Lindau lectures, the best I have found so far is David Gross’s talk on the future of particle physics (here). I just sat through the talk in its entirety, absolutely excellent. He gives a very good overview of particle physics, the Standard Model and the concept of supersymmetry. I particularly enjoyed his ‘big three’ reasons for SUSY, and his view of difficulties in detection at LHC. He predicts definite observation of a Higgs particle, and says he has taken bets that supersymmetry will be seen, at 50-50 odds. I wonder who his bet was taken with….

Official pic from Lindau website – is that E.? No, it’s Schweitzer

This evening, I’m looking forward to taking notes from ‘The Development of Particle Physics’ by Veltman, and tomorrow I think I’ll settle down with ‘The Beginning and Development of the Universe’ by George Smoot.

What a find!


I’ve just sat through Martin Veltman’s talk. It is also very good, though he takes a totally different approach to Gross. Instead of a history of particle physics, it’s really a history of accelerator physics. Of course, some of the story of particle physics emerges naturally from the experimental narrative, but not as well as in Gross’s case (mental note for teaching – Ed).

That said, there are some great anecdotes. Almost the first physicist to be credited is the Irish priest Nicholas Callan, who developed the first high voltage transformer. I knew this, but I didn’t know Callan tested his instrument on hapless students until he was ordered to switch to turkeys! Veltman then goes on to the Rhumkoff transformer and its use by Roentgen in the discovery of X-rays. He descibes the discovery of radioactivity and the nuclear experiments of Rutherford as the true beginning of particle physics. Another Irishman, Walton, gets great credit for the invention of the Cockroft-Walton tube, and its use even in today’s machines is described.

There is a nice description of the role of cosmic rays, and the next generation of accelerators, including the development of the klystron, the synchrotron and finally the storage ring. Overall, it’s a very interesting talk for anyone in particle physics, if less so for non-professionals.

The end of the talk contains some interesting comments – Veltman points out that we are ending the end of an era, as accelerators reach circumferences in 10s of km. As the energy is determined by circumference, it’s hard to see how we’re going to increase energy further using this technology….

All the more reason to hope for interesting results at CERN

Update II

I sat through George Smoot’s talk this morning. Entitled ‘ The beginning and development of the universe’, it promised a lot more than it delivered. This was definitely what I call a type II lecture – everything was probably there somewhere, but not in any order one could make much sense of.

Smoot mentions the acceleration of the universe early on, without any discussion of the universe expansion. or Hubble’s law. Similarily, he launches into a description of measurements of the cosmic microwave background without giving any explanation of its importance as a snapshot of the early universe. Finally, while there was plenty of talk of both the COBE and WMAP satellite experiments, there is no mention of the ‘why’ – i.e. the advantages of satellite measurements over ground-based observation.

In fact, this talk was strangely reminiscent of a talk given by Smoot’s co-laureate John Mather at Trinity College Dublin last year. There should be a law – if you’re going to give a public talk about your area (cosmology), you need to spend a few minutes on the basics – univ. expansion, nucleosynthesis, backgound radiation and inflation models. That’s hat I think anyway.

I’m fairly sure any members of the audience not familiar with BB theory left that lecture no wiser than before…


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2 responses to “Nobel laureate conference

  1. AM

    Official picture, no this is not E., that´s S. (Schweitzer) :)

  2. cormac

    Ah, didn’t really think so..thanks!