Due to what is starting to feel like an overwhelming teaching schedule*, I didn’t get a chance to properly share how excited I was to chat in December with Sean Carroll about his book “The Particle at the End of Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.” Sean is not only a top-notch physicist, but a passionate storyteller and communicator. I’ve wanted to interview him since I heard him speak at the 2011 Science Writers conference in Flagstaff. As a former high school physics teacher, I was in awe of how he moved effortlessly from the simplest to the grandest ideas in physics and not only held the audience’s attention but challenged us to think. So getting an hour to talk to him about Higgs Boson was a pure treat.
The Higgs Boson surprised the smart money and seems to have shown itself in July, even sooner than expected, in the sensors at the Large Hadron Collider. “They had their own timeline, as the universe often does,” Sean laughed when I asked him how he managed to write this fascinating and highly readable book about the LHC, the history of the Higgs Boson, and –more challengingly–quantum field theory in the same year as its discovery.
The Higgs was surely one of the biggest stories of the year and our interview covered everything from his desire to see more popular writing about quantum field theory to the true magnitude of the discovery, which he didn’t shy away from emphasizing: “A hundred thousand years from now when they talk about the history of particle physics, they will talk about pre-Higgs boson discovery and post-Higgs boson discovery.”
The conversation was great fun and I won’t lie, I may have blushed a little in the booth when he complemented me on having read the book in depth and asking interesting questions about it. Coming from someone who’s previous two interviews were with the Colbert Report (sorry fellow Canadians) and the iconic Canadian science program Quirks and Quarks, it was my pleasure.
You can check it out at Skeptically Speaking.
*Shout-out here though to my great students in EDSE 401 Digital Media in Science Education and EDSE 451 Physical Sciences Curriculum and Pedagogy. Aside from scheduling, I’m not complaining at all!
Posted by mcshanahan on January 18, 2013
“Helvetica emerges in that period in 1957 where there’s felt to be a need for rational typefaces which can be applied to all kinds of contemporary information whether it’s sign systems or corporate identity and present those visual expressions of the modern world to the public in an intelligible way.”*
This is one of the opening descriptive passages of Gary Hustwit’s 2007 documentary Helvetica, which traces the meaning, history and importance of the near ubiquitous typeface. Think of a corporate brand that has a sleek minimal brand image? Chances are the typeface is Helvetica, from the AAs of American Airlines to the very recognizable G in the Gap, all Helvetica. Even the New York subway signs, designed by Massimo Vignelli, are Helvetica. But what does that have to do with science communication and education? Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on October 9, 2012
Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, marking the first push down the slippery slope into a cold, dark winter. As the days get noticeably shorter in Edmonton, I wanted to take a minute to look back on a busy but fun Boundary Vision summer. While I haven’t been that active here, the spirit of blog has been a part of several summer projects. A big highlight for me has been that chance to go a lot further in exploring connections between science and popular music. Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on September 21, 2012
I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support). Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on August 13, 2012
“Canadian scientists aren’t normally among the placard-waving crowd on Parliament Hill” wrote Janet Davison for the CBC, describing plans for the funeral-themed protest by scientists the next day. Her statement says a lot about the significance of the protest. Something has changed in the way that many Canadian scientists perceive their relationship with the federal government, and it has changed so much that they were willing to take the largely unprecedented move to protest. Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on July 13, 2012
Curved potato rows, Hamilton, PEI
On Prince Edward Island for vacation this week, this view is everywhere. Rows of potatoes maturing in the early summer sun. Those rows look pretty perfect, though. And I’d have trouble drawing concentric curves, let alone driving a massive piece of farm equipment to get it just right. The answer? GPS. While I’m told there’s debate about its cost effectiveness, planting potatoes is just one of many tasks that has been automated with precision GPS tracking.
It caught my attention because I’d just read Scott Huler‘s On the Grid in preparation to interview him on Skeptically Speaking. The book is a thoughtful look at infrastructure systems in the city of Raleigh, and it surprised me in detailing the important role of GPS in planning of all kinds. It’s way more than a tool for lost drivers! (Okay, I knew that but didn’t know much about the specific uses). In one chapter Scott takes us on a surveyor’s tour of an in-progress housing development where GPS drives the bulldozers and takes the place of most of the stakes that would have marked the curbs, road boundaries, and water, power and sewer lines. Thanks to Scott I’ve also stood in parking lots wondering about transitions from asphalt to concrete, looked more carefully at storm drains that I ever imagined and started paying attention to urban streams.
For this week’s episode of Skeptically Speaking I had the chance to ask him all about the book, which he describes as his “love letter to engineers and taxes.” Given my own background, I couldn’t help but think that engineers are much deserving of the love. Along with Scott, I chatted with Tim DeChant, an environmental journalist who writes the density-themed blog Per Square Mile. Tim has done some fascinating writing about urban trees (who knew that cities might actually have a net positive effect on tree population in some areas?) and relationships between wealth and urban green spaces. You can listen to the episode or download the podcast from the Skeptically Speaking website.
Posted by mcshanahan on July 5, 2012
What does it mean to be a good role? Am I a good role model? Playing around with kids at home or in the middle of a science classroom, adults often ask themselves these questions, especially when it come to girls and science. But despite having asked them many times myself, I don’t think they’re the right questions.
Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on May 28, 2012
“It’s partly the problem of what happens when you become famous and bored.”
What sounds like a description of the latest rehab-destined movie star is instead how science writer Tom Levenson introduced me to Sir Isaac Newton’s unexpected transition from one of the greatest scientists of his time to a detective doggedly pursuing criminals. Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on May 18, 2012
This is an updated version of a post written as Song of the Week at The Finch & Pea on March 23, 2012.
Nearly 20, 000 people were beating on the doors of a venue that could hold less than 10, 000 shouting, “Let us in!” The tickets for the second night had all been printed with the same date as the first. Faced with the overwhelming numbers, the police waded into the crowd and ordered the opening act, Paul “Huckerbuckers” Williams to stop shortly after he began. A man was stabbed as the confused crowd dispersed. On the surface, The Moondog Coronation Ball, March 21, 1952 in Cleveland, was a total disaster. It was also a defining moment for 20th century music. Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on May 3, 2012
By far the best panel on science education I’ve seen recently was given by a few of the most important people in the field: kids.
I met them at LogiCon, an Edmonton-based science and critical thinking outreach event held annually at The Telus World of Science. The two-day meeting, April 14-15 this year, was open to all science centre visitors, adults and kids, and featured talks by researchers, writers, educators and more. There were talks on scientific topics, from vaccines to particle physics, and scientific thinking, such as how to evaluate claims in the media. One section of the conference was devoted to sessions for families and kids, and of course that’s the part I couldn’t resist attending. Read the full post »
Posted by mcshanahan on April 27, 2012