Physics Jamboree 2010

Landon, a first-year physics major in Dedman College and mechanical engineering major in the Lyle School, and Matthew, a physics and electrical engineering major, traveled to the University of Cincinnati in April 2010 to participate in the BaBar Physics Jamboree. Steve Sekula, assistant physics professor, traveled with them. The BaBar experiment is based at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University.

Presenting our research

An update from Landon:

Even though we got more sleep than the last few days, I woke up feeling more tired than ever. Physics, especially when it’s new physics, can be quite enervating. This morning, instead of going to the talks, we all worked on finishing up our presentations.

I started off with a practice talk in front of Professor Sekula and Matthew. It went well, and I felt comfortable with my knowledge of the information. After this, all that was left was to wait for 11 AM; however, the session was, of course, delayed.

I was the second talk, and after Sekula introduced the topic, I went up to the front of the room and described my part of the project. Although not quite as smooth as the practice talk, everything went fine. I didn’t blank and only barely fumbled my words. A little nerves were natural as I spoke to an audience of different nationalities as well as the BaBar project leader!

A little after Sekula finished the conclusion on our talk, Matthew went and blew the audience away with his detector imaging. Everyone was really excited after that.

After coming back from lunch, Matthew and I started to wind down from the physics focus and get back to our SMU states of mind. Instead of going to the plenary talks in the afternoon, we both sat in the hallway and did homework to try to make up for the time we had lost over the weekend.

Later …

Finally, we got back to SMU around 10:30 PM, with thankfully a less eventful drive from the airport than we had to the airport. Looking back, this weekend has been a great experience. We were accepted into the professional physics atmosphere with open arms and very few kid-jokes, and at our presentations, it seemed like we were taken seriously. We also made quite a few acquaintances within the BaBar community.

I’d like to give my utmost appreciation to Professor Sekula for taking me under his wing and leading me through the theoretical and experimental aspects of my research project.

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Meeting fellow physicists

An update from Landon:

Another extremely full day of cramming my brain with all kinds of new particle physics. Today started early after working late last night, and it definitely showed, since around 2 o’clock I fell asleep in a chair. But we also took some relaxing time walking around the campus of the University of Cincinnati.

However, the highlight of the day had to be the social event held earlier tonight at Professor Brian Meadows’ house. The whole of the BaBar Jamboree went and just hung out. I had the privilege of mingling with the oldest to the youngest physicists at the Jamboree: a man who had gotten his Ph.D. in the late ’50s all the way to fellow freshmen from the University of Louisiana.

We spent most of the night talking with the other undergraduates about each other’s work, the differences between our academic programs and funny stories about home.

I’ve been working tonight to finalize my slides. I have not practiced much for the presentation, but I feel confident enough to speak about what I’ve been working on for about six months now. I’m excited to present, but my main worry now is the amount of schoolwork I’ll have to do when I get back home Sunday night.

No matter what, though, this has been an invaluable immersion into the professional side of contemporary physics.

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On the front lines of low-energy particle physics

An update from Landon:

We left SMU at 7:45 AM today to head to D/FW, and the morning started off rough, when we were hit from behind on Northwest Highway. However, little damage was done and we were soon on the road again.

The plane left around 9:50 AM, and during the flight I tried to get some reading done for class. No luck, though, as when we got to cruising altitude I just fell asleep.

Anyway, we got to Cincinnati around 1 PM local time and headed toward the university. One thing I will say about Cincinnati is that the architecture is quite varied but intriguing on the campus and around the city. There are stark contrasts between the upscale downtown scene and the older homes around the campus, but it makes an ever-changing and exciting ride for sure.

Another rough start when the meetings began 30 minutes late due to audio problems when the phone conferences could not be heard in the room. However, we got started and had a day full of discussions and lectures on the front lines of low-energy particle physics. A lot of the information was way over my head, but there were a few topics that I recognized.

Other than that I met some cool people from around the country and the world who enjoyed talking about physics and Star Wars over an Indian-themed dinner, which capped off the first day nicely.

Tonight I put together some slides for my talk on Sunday and plan on finalizing them tomorrow. I’m a little nervous about whether I will know how to answer questions posed to me about the analysis I’ve done, but I’ve found out today that it is a pretty relaxed presentation environment. That coupled with the support of Professor Sekula is comforting.

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