Fermilab’s first Physics Slam a smash hit

Participants in Fermilab’s first Physics Slam on Friday watch the applause meter to see who won. From left: Bob Tschirhart, Deborah Harris, Doug Glenzinski, Chris Stoughton, Stuart Henderson and host Chris Miller of the College of DuPage. Photo: Reidar Hahn

On Friday night, about 1,000 people came out to Fermilab to see five physicists duke it out … with science.

The occasion was the Arts and Lecture Series’ first ever Physics Slam. A physics slam is kind of like a poetry slam—the five contestants were given 12 minutes each to explain a complex particle physics concept to an auditorium filled with laymen. And they had to do it in the most entertaining way they could, because audience applause determined the winner.

The slammers could use anything they wanted to on stage, from songs to props to dancing bears. The objective was to do whatever it took to entertain the audience while talking science.

The first particle physics slam was held at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Germany a few years ago, and the first one on these shores took place last year at the University of Oregon. The Fermilab event was organized by the Auditorium Committee and hosted by Chris Miller of the College of DuPage.

All of the slammers—and the audience—had a great time. Chris Stoughton had the packed house at Ramsey Auditorium doing the wave to illustrate the holography of the universe. Deborah Harris called her presentation “The Neutrino Monologues,” and she played five different characters, tracing the evolution of neutrino physics up through Fermilab’s current experiments.

Doug Glenzinski had the audience cracking up at his fabricated pictures of himself accepting a Nobel prize and talked about the experiment he hopes might get him one: Mu2e, which will try to catch muons changing into electrons. And Bob Tschirhart worked Danica Patrick and dogs playing poker into a talk about one of Fermilab’s big future experiments, Project X.

But it was Stuart Henderson who took home the prize. He spiced up a talk about how particle accelerators can alleviate the problem of nuclear waste by bringing in Homer Simpson and a graphic from The Onion about a giant science machine.

An applause meter iPad app was used to determine the winner.

View the video recording of Friday’s slam.

The physics slam is part of our ongoing Arts and Lecture series. The full lineup for that series is here.

Andre Salles

Stuart Henderson, winner of Fermilab’s first Physics Slam, explains the complex machinery used to “create science” during Friday’s sold-out event in Ramsey Auditorium. Photo: Reidar Hahn
The sold-out crowd in Ramsey Auditorium applauds the five participants in Fermilab’s first Physics Slam on Friday. Photo: Reidar Hahn