Sorry I have been gone so long. My head has been cluttered with things I have wanted to talk about for the last month, but I have been crazily busy at work and home for the last month or more, and then I was hit by a computer malfunction. Anyway, I am now back again.
For anyone interested, the previous posts (January 2008 to August 2009) can be found here.
The Proton Accelerator
One of the main factors that has slowed me down over the last two weeks has been a commitment I made in a rash moment to condense the first three weeks of the Protons for Breakfast course into a form which could be presented at the British Science Association’s Festival of Science.
There were three challenges. The first was condense 6 hours of session-time into some 90 minutes: hence the term Proton Accelerator. The second was to try to get people to attend. And the last one was to into shift a team of helpers and large quantity of kit up to Guildford in time for a 10:00 a.m. start.
It was the first of these which made me most anxious. After 10 presentations and many refinements I now know the story that links the various demonstrations in the sessions. And now I had to throw away roughly two thirds of that and still have it make sense! Also I didn’t want people to feel that this was a cut down version of the ‘real thing’ and that they were being short-changed. I wanted to create something that made sense in itself and had its own compelling narrative. This was hard in itself, but harder still was choosing which things not to say. What I arrived at wasn’t perfect, but felt different and new and now I am not sure how I will go back to the old presentation. I had already done a lot of the work by the time of the rehearsal, but the helpers really helped me sharpen up the final product, identifying one slide here or another there that wasn’t necessary, and providing the feedback for me to see through the fog. I felt an enormous swell of support from everyone and was really heartened.
The issue of getting people to attend was something that was out of my hands. We had only 36 bookings when we opened on Saturday morning and roughly that number of people turned up to the first session, so thought the rest of the day would quiet. However the Protons team members scoured the Guildford campus handing out leaflets to people as they got off the bus and the second session was fuller. And by the time we reached the last session we were nearly full with over 80 people attending. And I had not had to do anything! I was reminded of the ‘voice’ in the film Field of Dreams which inspires the lead character with the phrase ‘If you build it, they will come’.
And getting all the stuff there? After the rehearsal the helpers packed the van, I drove it up to Guildford and we unpacked it. And in between sessions I felt like a movie star! I sat down and collected my thoughts or edited the slides, and the team moved all the kit and arranged the projectors and cameras.
And after it was over I felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with relief that it was over and that the event now resided in the past rather the future. Overwhelmed with the sense of -frankly- love and support from the helpers: it really is fantastic to have such colleagues. Overwhelmed with physical tiredness. Overwhelmed that again with a completely different set of people and in a completely different environment we had re-told this simple and enduring story about our world: and warmed by the thought that a few more people now know they eat protons for breakfast.