Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Excellent talk today + the point of colloquia.

Today I was fortunate to host my department's weekly colloquium, with Prof. Wilson Ho from UC Irvine as the speaker.  He gave a great talk about "Visualizing Quantum Mechanics", in which he showed (using experiments from his own group) how scanning tunneling microscopy can be a great teaching tool for illustrating concepts from undergraduate quantum mechanics.  He covered the exponential dependence of tunneling on distance, imaging of molecular orbitals, the crossover between classical (activated) diffusion and quantum (tunneling-based) diffusion, particle-in-a-box physics in 1d atomic chains, visualization of Fermi's Golden Rule via light emission experiments, and other neat results.  The audience included not just the usual collection of faculty and grad students, but also a bunch of the current undergrad quantum students as well.  

The talk was pretty much a letter-perfect example of what a colloquium is supposed to be.  It was accessible to a general audience, was genuinely educational, had appealing visuals, and contained enough intellectual "meat" to be satisfying for experts, including some not-yet published stuff.  It would be nice if every speaker realized the difference between a colloquium and a seminar....

On an unrelated note, I can't resist commenting on this awful article from Reuters hyping the LHC.  I'm as happy as anyone that the accelerator is running well, but does the CERN press office really need to keep churning out this kind of garbage?  Can't they just have a nice release/article talking about how nicely the experiment is running, and how they're hitting their targets, without making just laughable statements?  I think we can be pretty damned sure that the LHC is not about to discover incontrovertible evidence for parallel universes.   

4 comments:

Rafael said...

No offense, but is the opinion about the colloquium the same among the undergraduate students? or the first year graduate students? I've seen in the past professors thinking a colloquium was great but more than half of the grad students thinking it was not understandable or badly presented.

From reading your blog I have a feeling your opinion about colloquiums is probably very similar to mine but I really want to ask about the first year graduate students because if he is as good as you say I'll propose him as a colloquium speaker to my department.

Doug Natelson said...

A fair question. I'll ask around.

Rafael said...

Thanks a lot.

Doug Natelson said...

Well, the word from the handful of students that I talked to was that they thought it was good, too. Of course, this may be a selection effect.