Full house for Fermilab’s 2013 Physics Slam

Physics slammers entertained a packed house in Ramsey Auditorium at Fermilab’s second physics slam. From left: Don Lincoln, Tia Miceli, Hugh Lippincott, Chris Polly, Brian Nord. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Picture it. It’s Friday evening, 8 p.m., and more than 800 people — many of them under the age of 20 — have trekked out to a particle physics laboratory to learn about science. They’re as excited as a bunch of football fans before a Bears game.

That was the scene on Nov. 15 as Fermilab’s Arts and Lecture Series presented its second annual Physics Slam to a packed house in Ramsey Auditorium. A physics slam is more than just a science talk: It’s a competition between communicators.

Each of five contestants was given 10 minutes to discuss a topic in physics. The catch: They had to make it as exciting and enjoyable as possible. Contestants could use props, music, video — anything they chose. The five physicists took that to heart.

Don Lincoln kicked off the show by entering to Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2,” getting the audience to clap along. His presentation focused on the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Tia Miceli, a postdoc on the MicroBooNE experiment, delved into the “Case Files of the Neutrino” in the guise of an old-time detective.

Hugh Lippincott, postdoc on the COUPP experiment, discussed the search for dark matter, with an audience participation twist. He brought a young volunteer onto the stage and asked her to find one person in the audience, using stricter and stricter criteria, the way dark-matter experiments narrow the hunt for the elusive particles.

Chris Polly, project manager of the Muon g-2 experiment, wowed the crowd with tales of moving a giant magnet from New York and related the short-lived, gyrating particle it will study to Elvis Presley.

Finally, Brian Nord, postdoc on the Dark Energy Survey, presented an elaborate parody of “The Colbert Report,” taking on the persona of a newscaster from the year 3031 railing against dark energy and its expansion of the universe.

The winner was determined by audience applause. Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer presented to Miceli the top prize: a copy of “The Physics of Superheroes,” by James Kakalios, who will give a talk of the same title at Fermilab on Dec. 6. After the show, a tabulation error was discovered, and Nord, who attained the highest score, was also awarded a championship certificate.

As it was last year, the 2013 Physics Slam was hosted by Chris Miller, speech professor at the College of DuPage. Miller opened the show with words of praise for the young people in the audience.

“Young people under 18, I’m telling you right now, you’re going to save my planet. You’re going to explain human existence. You’re here at Fermilab at 8 o’clock on a Friday night. You’re going to save the world. That’s something amazing, and I don’t want you to forget that,” Miller said.

Watch the video of the 2013 Physics Slam.

Andre Salles