A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

What do Palin and particle physics have in common?

01/08/09

Alaska and dog sledding are hot.

Former US vice presidential contender Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin brought the state, and its front-porch-like proximity to Russia, into mainstream American consciousness. The state's first husband, aka "first dude," and world-class snowmobile racer, Todd, gave the state a good-looking, athletic poster boy to replace former stereotypes of a land populated by long-bearded, hermitic types.

Add to that, the incursion of arguably one of the nation's hottest new entertainment genres: tough guy TV. Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch, The Alaskan Experiment, and The Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod give viewers a vicarious look at adventure in the northern-most parts of North America.

It seems mainstream America has caught up with daredevil theoretical particle physicist Eric Rogers, who more than a decade ago fell in love with the state and its man vs. nature pastime.

I guess it fits since particle physics always has been on the cutting edge, albeit usually on the knowledge, not athletic, front. 

Recent television shows about Alaska, and arguably the state as a whole, have a blue collar bent, but that doesn't mean that Alaskans stop PhDs at the border. And it doesn't mean the academic crowd can't hack it in the tundra.

Rogers has called the state home since 1992 and is a veteran racer of the Iditarod, which gives him automatic macho, alpha-male status.

He's endured frostbite over more than 1000 miles of rugged terrain, and can also help uncover the mystery of how the universe evolved, whether extra dimensions exist, and what makes up the building blocks of matter that permit the existence of the race course, his dog team, and Palin's beloved moose. 

How many other mushers can say that?

Rogers worked on high-energy hadron deuteron collisions using double scattering events where both the proton and neutron were involved as a probe of the hadron structure. He later moved to Shell Oil, one of several industries that favor employees with physics backgrounds, to help find and tap oil reserves.

Today, Rogers is registered as one of 73 mushers in the upcoming 2009 Iditarod, which kicks off March 7.

He sees correlations between the personality traits needed to work in particle physics and racing the Iditarod.

"First you have to really love it--there are easier ways to make money," he says. "Then, persistence and perserverance work wonders in both cases. Finally, there is the thrill htat comes from living at the edge of the bell curve. All good stuff."

You can follow Rogers at his Web site, his blog, and the official Iditarod Web site, which will allow you to track a racer's progress.  

Rogers says that as a child, his passions were Mr. Wizard and Sgt. Preston, who explored the Yukon in a 1950s TV series.

"I'm fortunate enough to have done both," he says.

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