Most Memorable Colloquim
I inspired Kristen at radioactive-banana.com to write about the best and worst colloquia she has heard, so I decided to write about the most memorable colloqium I ever heard. It was neither the best or worst, but I will never forget it. It was the first colloqium that I attended as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As brand new graduate students, my officemate and I had not yet learned the traditions of colloqium, so we sat in the second row. As the hall filled we soon saw that we were surrounded by the faculty. We soon learned that graduate students sat in the back of the hall, so they could relax and fall asleep if necessary.
The speaker was the Nobel Prize winner, Carlo Rubbia. He had not yet won his Nobel Prize, but he was speaking on stochastic cooling of antiprotons. It was being developed at CERN by Simon van der Meer, his co-Nobelist. That work that would lead to the discovery of the W and the Z bosons for which Rubbia won the Prize.
In 1979 there was no Powerpoint. Most physics talks were given using transparencies and an overhead projector. Rubbia had a massive stack of transparencies. I did not think there was any way that he could go through them all. I had never experienced such an information overload before, and I have not experienced one as great since. To this day, I tell people that Rubbia took a deep breath and spoke for an hour straight without inhaling again.
Within about 10 minutes, I knew that this was not going to be a leaisurely lecture where I might have time to think about what I was hearing and perhaps learn something. Rubbia would put a transparency up and before I had an idea of what it was suppose to illustrate it was gone and new one appeared. Unfortunately, we were surrounded by the faculty and we did not want make a bad first impression, so we sat up straight and tried to survive the hurricane of physics that was pounding us.
In 1983 I was at CERN working on my thesis experiment when UA1 announced the discovery of the Z boson. A talk by Rubbia on the discovery was scheduled for the auditorium and it was packed. I went to a second auditorium where the talk was shown by video. It was a much more pleasent experience. I could relax, and I now knew enough to follow the talk even at the supersonic speed that it was given.
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