Well, I went down to Wellington last Thursday and presented at the Science Express event at Te Papa. It was the third time I’ve done a talk in that manner on the Large Hadron Collider, and it was for me intriguing how the audiences have picked up on different things each time.
The first time (Hamilton, late last year) the audience wanted to know about the structure of the nucleus – what’s in a proton? (answer – three quarks, or at least we think so) – what’s a quark made up of? how do they interact? and so on. (If this sounds like you, have a read about the ALICE experiment at the LHC).
The second time (Tauranga, earlier this year) it was more the nature of the machine that took the audience’s attention. How do you get beams to bend?, how are they focussed?, how are the particles accelerated?, what is the beam pipe made of? Etcetera.
And now in Wellington last week it was anti-matter that grabbed people’s interest. What is it? Is all the missing anti-matter hiding in anti-galaxies? Could we tell if a galaxy was really an anti-galaxy? Is an anti-electron just an electron with a positive charge?
For me it is very curious how the group dynamics work – one question clearly leads to another on a similar topic. One person’s thoughts influence another’s. That’s one of the scary aspects of doing a discussion-style presentation – you never quite know where it is going to go. And sometimes it goes into areas that I am not so familiar with. Having to stand up in front of 120 people and say ‘I don’t know’ in answer to a question is not easy. But what it does mean is that no two presentations are ever the same. And that keeps it interesting for me.