Fermilab Hosts a Physics Slam


Poetry slams have proven wildly popular since they made their debut in the 1980s. That’s where poets recite their original work in front of a live audience, whose members then vote and choose a winner. It’s as much performance as art.

Given the broad appeal of the format, it’s not surprising that “physics slams” have been popping up at labs and universities around the globe, starting a few years ago at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Germany. And last month, Fermilab hosted its own physics slam before a crowd of 1,000 people.

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The rules were simple: each of the five contestants had 12 minutes to explain a complicated idea in particle physics to the predominantly non-scientist audience, making it as fun and entertaining as possible — whether that be through songs or amusing props. They used an iPad app “Applause Meter” to measure the crowd’s enthusiasm for each performance.

For example, Deborah Harris presented “The Neutrino Monologues,” playing five distinct characters to talk about neutrino experiments at Fermilab, while Chris Stoughton chose to illustrate the notion of a holographic universe by instructing the audience to do the wave.

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In the end, Stuart Henderon won the night with a presentation on how particle accelerators handle nuclear waste, featuring everyone’s favorite bungling cartoon nuclear plant employee, Homer Simpson.

Image: Reider Hahn, Fermilab.

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