symmetry magazine

dimensions of particle physics

dimensions of particle physics

A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

 

A different spin

March 15, 2013

A different spin

In physics, spinors are used to plot the spin properties of elementary particles. In Stanford's recreational softball league, it's a whole different story.

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Sporting both physics and physique, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory employees field a slow-pitch, co-ed softball team each year, the Spinors, in a Stanford University recreational league. Although their competitors are a mostly younger bunch of graduate students and staff, the SLAC team likes to think they have physics in their favor.

In physics, spinors are used to plot the spin properties of elementary particles. First described by French mathematician Élie Joseph Cartan in 1913, spinors have a range of applications in modern physics and mathematics. They also share a pronunciation with “spinners”—baseball slang that describes curveballs and sliders, which are pitches thrown with heavy spin on the ball.

The team’s logo even features two softballs smashing together, with smaller spheres bursting out of the impact—paying homage to the lab’s particle collider experiments.

Softball traditions run deep at SLAC; physics faculty and students engaged in annual softball championship games on the Stanford campus as far back as the 1950s, even before the 1962 groundbreaking for the lab’s two-mile-long linear accelerator. Since then, an annual softball game remains an unbroken tradition.

Team manager Mike Woods, a 21-year Spinors veteran, says that since the Spinors first formed in 1991, the team has evolved to include a representative slice of SLAC’s workforce: men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s, who trade hits and runs with teams that are often quite a bit younger.

Woods describes the Stanford recreational league as “very laissez faire, very social—we’ve never even had hired umpires.” Based on work schedules and availability, it’s common for a different set of players to show up to each game.

And although the Spinors haven’t yet won the league championship, they’ll be back again next year for another try.

 

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Photo by Joe Faust, SLAC