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Fermilab Grad Students Hold Conference

Fermilab New Perspectives Conference attendees.
Fermilab New Perspectives Conference attendees.

Physics graduate students at Fermilab had the opportunity in July to participate in the 1999 New Perspectives conference held at the facility, organized by the laboratory's Graduate Student Association (GSA) and endorsed by the APS and the Division of Particles and Fields (DPF). Conference topics covered all physics subjects of interest to the laboratory, including QCD, electroweak physics, heavy flavor, CP violation, particle astrophysics, detector developments and accelerator technology, among others.

Fermilab's GSA was formed in 1994 and is intended to provide a common association among grad students in all the laboratory's experiments and divisions. To this end, the GSA organizes and conducts activities deemed beneficial to graduate student life, among them the annual New Perspectives Conference Series. "The New Perspectives conference is an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students at Fermilab to present their work to the entire lab community," says Maria Spiropulu, a current Fermilab grad student and GSA representative who organized this year's scientific program. This year featured the first George Michael Memorial Poster Award, with new lab director Michael Witherell bestowing a sum of $500 on the three best posters presented in the NP poster session.

Students responded with enthusiasm to the keynote address by J.D. Jackson, who expressed concern about the increasing specialization of physics and its impact on the unity of the field. "I see the physicist as generalist becoming the physicist as specialist, which in my view is a bad thing," he said, decrying the fact that physics has grown so rapidly in the last 50 years that many schools "skimp on the bread and butter to get to the sexy stuff at the frontier."

Jackson peppered his lecture with several dynamic demonstrations to illustrate dimensional analysis, including the "falling honey" demo to derive the frequency of the layout of the coils using dimensional analysis. He also demonstrated how to calculate the energy of a nuclear explosion using dimensional analysis, as well as using pieces of wood floating at different angles to demonstrate the principle of symmetry breaking. "We had a lot of fun, and needless to say, the room was packed," said Spiropulu.

The program also featured lectures by senior faculty at Fermilab and surrounding institutions, among them Hugh Montgomery, who summarized current physics being done at the Main Injector.

Fermilab theorist Joe Lykken closed the meeting by attacking the notion that "particle physics is almost done." He decried the naysayers who argue that string theory is the one True Theory of Everything, or that the Standard Model will reign forever. "There is no reason to imagine that we are near the end of this process, barring the collapse of our civilization."

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette