24 May 2012

Of Quarks and High School Students

Jerome Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in physics who is a member of OIST’s Board of Governors, spoke to students at Kaiho High School, near Naha, on May 23. Prof. Friedman began his talk by telling the more than 700 assembled students, “You are made of quarks, and I’m going to tell you today about why we think you are made of quarks.” He went on to describe what particle physicists do, the tools they use, and the history of the field, as well as what quarks are (the building blocks of the protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms) and how they were discovered. He ended by addressing the question of whether quarks themselves are composed of yet smaller particles, which may be answered by experiments on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Europe. “I would hope that some of the students in this audience would get involved in the LHC, and maybe some great discoveries will be made by students in this audience,” he said.

In response to student questions, Prof. Friedman told the story of how he became interested in science, and commented on the importance of taking risks. “Do not underestimate your capacity to do something important... it’s a question of having enough passion and dedication,” he said.

First-year student Akito Uehara said he had learned about particle accelerators before, but was interested to hear that they can be used to study very small things. The talk also made him realize that Prof. Friedman used to be a student like those at Kaiho High School, and that it may be possible for himself and his classmates to make big discoveries, he said.

Prof. Friedman earned his PhD at the University of Chicago and worked for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is now an emeritus professor. Along with two collaborators, he won the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics for experiments demonstrating the existence of quarks. In 2005 he joined the Board of Governors (BOG) for what was then the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Promotion Corporation. He was in Okinawa for a BOG meeting at OIST.

By Shawna Williams

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