This afternoon I gave another lesson on particle physics and the discovery of the Higgs boson to a score of selected students of Liceo Foscarini who decided to participate to the project “Arte e Scienza” (which I described in a former post). While exactly two months ago we have an attendance of almost 200 students to the lecture I gave with Cecilia Tosciri and the other ESRs, today the audience consisted only in those 20 students who decided to take on the challenge of producing artwork inspired by particle physics. And they proved very interested in the matter!
Indeed, lecturing high schoolers on particle physics is a bit of a gamble every time. Sometimes you encounter highly motivated audiences, while in some other occasions the number of students who really follow the lesson is a minority. I guess it both depends on the students themselves and on their teachers – inspirational science teachers are always capable to motivate their students to learn more about scientific topics. This time the contact at the school was prof. Alvise Varagnolo, who has a background in theoretical physics and has even been a researcher in supersymmetric theories in the past. Given his enthusiasm with the topic I did expect an interested audience. And I was not disappointed.
Since the students in the audience had already assisted to a generic lecture on particle physics two months ago, I decided to focus on a few selected topics, trying to get to the heart of the matter. I discussed the standard model, its mathematical formulation (in general terms, but pointing out the capability to calculate reaction rates with Feynman diagrams and interaction Lagrangians), and the working principle of accelerators and detectors. And then I was able to touch on the challenging detection of a Higgs boson signal. From the many excellent questions I received (why colliding protons and not other particles? How do we know the various decay modes of the Higgs boson? How does one construct the mass histogram from four-lepton decays? etcetera) I gather they did follow my talk with attention.
The students will now take on the challenge of producing artwork inspired by particle physics and the Higgs boson discovery. Together with some 100 other students from two other schools in the Venice area, they will compete to get their artwork exposed during the EPS 2017 conference at the Lido of Venice. The best works will be rewarded with consumer electronics offered by the AMVA4NewPhysics network. It will certainly be a very interesting spring!