Recent AAPT meeting

This past Friday I was at the joint meeting of the New England Sections of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society held at Williams College.  This was a great meeting where two of the invited talks on Friday were about the Higgs Boson, both from a theoretical and experimental point of view.   At the dinner banquet I was sitting next to David Hammer discussing pedagogy.  However, the primary dinner conversation at our table was amongthe several particle physicists at the table including David Tucker-Smith (Williams), Martin Schmaltz (Boston University), Kyle Cranmer (NYU), and Adam Falk (President of Williams).  A lot of the talk was of the Higgs Boson, and stayed tuned.  This Wednesday there will be a breaking announcement with a new Higgs discovery!  This was posted last week on YouTube by CernTV.   At the meeting they talked about the uncertainty if we are looking at a particle of spin zero or spin 2 which is why we are not 100% sure they have the Higgs Boson.  Let us see what they announce tomorrow!

During dinner I asked how I could explain the Higgs Boson and its relationship to inertia to my students.  It was explained (to paraphrase and with my enhancement):We are familiar with forces which depend on position such as gravity and the electric force.  We are familiar with forces such as air resistance which are proportional to velocity. Under turbulent conditions, the force of air resistance is proportional to the square of the velocity.  The interaction of mass with the Higgs field is similar to a force which is proportional to acceleration.  This is the only force which is proportional to acceleration.

So after 20 years of teaching students that inertia is not a force, I now learn that this explanation is not quite the entire story.  My take away is not that I have been teaching student the wrong thing, but that our understanding of the universe is constantly evolving.  David Hammer gave a great talk at this same meeting emphasizing that we need to focus on science practices over science content.  This is particularly important because science is always changing!

It was a great meeting with excellent workshops .  Many thanks to my colleagues at in the BU Physics department including Mark D. Greenman and Andrew Duffy for running workshops!