The Oval, Hull, ExCel and CERN

Talking about particle physics is very audience-dependent

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk – “Scientific Section Presidential Address“, in fact – at the British Science Festival in Hull. I’ve just been sent links to a write-up (in German) of the meeting which features my talk here and here. I think my German is good enough to work out there’s nothing too rude about me in there, and if yours is better than mine (not a high bar) you might find the account of the whole event interesting.


The week before, I gave a talk at a training day for Cancer Research UK, which was as much about the organisation of big collaborations as it was about the physics. It was at the Kia Oval, just before the final Test of the Indian tour. Apparently the Indian team were training there. I didn’t get to see them, but I did get a cool mug.

The following week – that is last week – I talked again at New Scientist Live in the ExCel centre.

I really enjoyed all three events, since there were large¹ and engaged audiences. Somehow no matter how often I give the same talk, it never turns out quite the same, because the audience is always different². The amazingness of the whole enterprise of particle physics, and the wonder and excitement which attracted me to it in the first place, sometimes slip from view in the daily mundanity which comes with any job. Giving a talk to a general audience is like going back to the beginning for me. Seeing the enthusiasm reflected back from the eyes of an audience definitely boosts my own scientific creativity and motivation.

I don’t know whether any lessons from the organisation and politics of CERN or ATLAS are directly applicable to cancer research, or vice versa, but sharing experiences was interesting for me and the feedback was good. I spent last week at CERN, mostly in meetings of the governing body – the council. So, plenty of organisation and politics. And frankly being British and trying to do anything political in Europe isn’t much fun right now.

Still, there are upsides. CERN now has a new President-elect of Council (congratulations Ursula!), a new address (a slightly strange blue road with flags), and has, as of today, survived to its 64th birthday.

So we must be doing something right. Also there is an excellent view from the cycle home.

Whatever motivation from public speaking, or demotivation from politics, I may have absorbed recently, I am looking forward to this coming week. For me it will feature UCL and Manchester, and will be all about meeting students, and doing physics rather than talking about it.

Ok, maybe some talking.

¹ In number. Not a comment on the individuals.

² Although I suspect some of them have heard some of the jokes before by now.

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Cosmic Shambles and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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