A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Street-corner physics

11/01/08

Leon Lederman, a 1988 Nobel laureate and Fermilab physicist, plopped a folding table and two chairs on a busy New York City street corner and sat under colorful hand-scrawled signs offering to answer physics questions. Even in a city of people too busy for impromptu sidewalk conversations, the sight was too tempting to resist.

 

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Watch Video: Part 1 | Part 2

Image: YouTube

Street-corner physics

Leon Lederman, a 1988 Nobel laureate and Fermilab physicist, plopped a folding table and two chairs on a busy New York City street corner and sat under colorful hand-scrawled signs offering to answer physics questions. Even in a city of people too busy for impromptu sidewalk conversations, the sight was too tempting to resist.

“They sat down and asked about the big bang and black holes,” Lederman says. “They were good questions. People were very curious.”

Soon about 20 people formed a line down the block. They asked Lederman about the strong force, time and space, fusion, and even time travel. Some asked follow-up questions to get a clearer understanding, while others just seemed thrilled at the chance to meet a Nobel Prize winner.

Lederman said he was impressed that most people asked about physics; there were no off-the-wall questions. The native New Yorker said he'd gladly do it again.

The idea stemmed from discussions in late May at the World Science Festival in New York about bringing science to the streets. Lederman and a film crew set up shop under a few hand-drawn “Ask a Nobel Prize-winning physicist” signs in front of a hotel on 34th Street, within view of the Empire State building.

Lederman shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to neutrino physics. He is well-known for his book The God Particle and for his outreach and education efforts. His street-corner debut was filmed by ScienCentral in conjunction with the World Science Festival, and can be viewed in two parts on YouTube.

Rhianna Wisniewski

 

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