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Barnes and... A Conversation with Oliver Keith Baker

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Steve speaks with world-renowned physicist Dr. Oliver Baker about his childhood in McGehee, AR and his inspirations on becoming a physicist. He also discusses his ground-breaking research on particle physics and the Higgs Boson, also referred to as the 'God particle.' Dr. Baker is a professor of physics and the director of the A.W. Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory (WNSL) at Yale University. He conducts much of his research on the physics of elementary particles and nuclei at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, VA.

TRANSCRIPT

HELLO, EVERYONE, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US. OUR GUEST TODAY, OLIVER KEITH BAKER, PH.D., AND THEN SOME. OLIVER KEITH BAKER, THANKS VERY MUCH FOR MAKING YOURSELF AVAILABLE FOR THIS TIME. YOU ARE BACK IN ARKANSAS HAVING LED ALREADY AT MID-LIFE, MID CAREER, AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE. EDUCATED AT M-I-T, STANFORD, TEACHING POSITIONS AT YALE, HAMPTON, ET CETERA. YOU SPENT A FAIR AMOUNT OF TIME OVERSEAS SMASHING ATOMS, PROTONS. PHYSICS IS NOT YOUR MODERATOR, YOUR STRONG POINT. BUT TELL US ABOUT THIS LIFE SO FAR. THE TRAM [SKWR-EBGT/]JECTORY IS REMARKABLE.

IT HAS BEEN. I'VE BEEN EXTREMELY -- I CONSIDER MYSELF BLESSED. I CONSIDER MYSELF FORTUNATE. A LOT OF PEOPLE WORKED HARD TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. I CAN'T TAKE ALL THE CREDIT.

HOST: YOU CAME FROM -- YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF SIBLINGS, I THINK, THREE. ALL OF YOU HAVE GONE ON TO EXCEPTIONAL LIVES. NATURE OR NURTURE?

BOTH, WHY NOT BOTH? I HAVE TO GIVE CREDIT TO MY MOM AND DAD, MY LATE MOTHER AND MY DAD WHO NOW LIVES IN TILLER, OLIVER WALTER BAKER. SO, I DIDN'T FULLY APPRECIATE THE UPBRINGING I HAD AT THE TIME. MY DAD HAD A HEALTHY RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY AND, YOU KNOW, THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT RESPECTING AUTHORITY. BUT AS I GOT OLDER, I UNDERSTOOD WHAT HE WAS DOING AND I APPRECIATE THAT, AND THANKED HIM MANY TIMES.

HOST: WHEN WERE YOU DRAWN TO THE SCIENCES, PARTICULARLY THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES?

RIGHT. SO, THIS IS A QUESTION A LOT OF PEOPLE ASK ME. WHAT WAS IT THAT MOTIVATED ME TO GO INTO SCIENCE. I DON'T REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS. I DO REMEMBER BEING INTERESTED IN PHYSICS VERY EARLY ON. I WAS MAYBE 11 YEARS OLD WHEN I REMEMBER READING ABOUT PHYSICS AND SAYING, THIS IS SOMETHING I WANTED TO DO. AND THEN AS I --

HOST: DID YOU SEE AN APPLE FALL? DID YOU SEE WATER --

LET ME SAY, AGAIN, GIVE CREDIT TO MY PARENTS. WE CAME FROM A POOR FAMILY, BUT MY MOM AND DAD WERE BOTH COLLEGE EDUCATED. THEY MET IN ARKANSAS COLLEGE WHICH IS NOW UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS PINE BLUFF. SO, I BRING UP THE FACT THAT THEY WEREN'T WELL TO DO BECAUSE THE ONE THING THEY DID, HOWEVER, WAS TO PURCHASE A SET OF ENCYCLOPEDIAS, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRING TAN KA. I REMEMBER AS A BOY READING IT, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND I READ IT. AND WE BASICALLY DESTROYED THE SET IN A FEW YEARS. ~ AND I REMEMBER HOW UPSET MY PARENTS WERE ABOUT IT. BUT AS I GOT OLDER, I UNDERSTOOD THE REASON THEY GOT WORN OUT WAS BECAUSE WE WERE USING THEM. WE WOULD GET THEM AND READ THEM. PERHAPS WE'D LEAVE THEM LYING AROUND, BUT THE POINT WAS THAT, YOU KNOW, THAT ENGAGED US. I THINK IT WAS THAT ENGAGEMENT THAT INTERACTING WITH MY PARENTS AND MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS THAT I GIVE SOME CREDIT TO.

HOST: WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU SAID, THIS IS FOR ME? I WANT TO KNOW HOW ATOMS, I WANT TO KNOW HOW MOLECULES INTERACT. I WANT TO GO INTO PHYSICS. THIS IS MY LIFE.

I DO REMEMBER BEING VERY YOUNG, 11 OR 12 YEARS OLD, AND SAYING, THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO. BUT I THINK -- OKAY. SO, MAYBE THERE WASN'T ONE MOMENT IN TIME. THAT MAY HAVE BEEN JUST A SNAPSHOT OF SOMETHING THAT WAS CARRIED OUT OVER MANY YEARS. I REMEMBER AS I GOT ON INTO MIDDLE SCHOOL AND INTO HIGH SCHOOL THAT I DID HAVE A TALENT FOR SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS. I REMEMBER MY FRIENDS ASKING ME TO DO THEIR MATH HOMEWORK FOR THEM. THEIR SCIENCE HOMEWORK FOR THEM.

HOST: I HAVE TO ASK, DID YOU?

ABSOLUTELY.

HOST: WE'LL CALL THAT A MISDEMEANOR, NOT A FELONY. [LAUGHTER]

SO, AND THEN, OF COURSE, IF THAT'S WHAT MAKES PEOPLE NOTICE YOU WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG AND YOU NEED THAT SORT OF VALIDATION, THEN I THINK I WOULD PROBABLY ATTRIBUTE THE TALENT AND SORT OF THE FACT THAT THAT'S  WHAT I BECAME KNOWN FOR, IS BEING THE ONE WHO HAD THE TALENT. SO, THAT MOTIVATED ME AND THAT STUCK WITH ME OVER THE YEARS. I WOULD SAY THAT.

HOST: SECONDARY SCHOOL, PUBLIC SCHOOL, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE? WAS THERE A TEACHER WHO SAID, YEAH, I THINK YOU'VE GOT IT?

THERE WERE SEVERAL. I'LL GO BACK TO FIRST GRADE. THERE WAS MY FIRST GRADE TEACHER DOWN AT TILLER HIGH SCHOOL. IT WAS CALLED TILLER HIGH SCHOOL, BUT IT WAS GRADES 1 THROUGH 12. MAIMIE HALE, WAS ALWAYS THE ONE TO CALL ON ME FIRST. IF THERE WAS SOMETHING SHE WANTED DONE, I WAS THE ONE SHE'D CALL. IT HAD A GREAT IMPACT ON ME. THERE WERE OTHER TEACHERS AS I WENT ON THROUGH SCHOOL IN TILLER, MRS. ROGERS, MS. SANDERS, MR. WALTON. AND THEN D.C. PRUITT, A NUMBER OF TEACHERS I RESPECTED. IN MIDDLE SCHOOL WE MOVED FROM ARKANSAS TO MEMPHIS. IT WAS A MATTER OF RETRENCHING. YOU HAD TO GET TO KNOW DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I DIDN'T REALLY HIT MY STRIDE IF THERE WAS SUCH A THING UNTIL HIGH SCHOOL. AND THEN I THINK TEACHERS STARTED PAYING ATTENTION TO ME AND SAYING, OKAY, THIS GUY HAS -- THIS IS HIS THING, THIS IS HIS TALENT.

HOST: YOU USE THE PHRASE TEACHERS THAT I RESPECTED. WHY DID YOU RESPECT THEM? WHAT MADE THEM UNIQUE?

YEAH, YOU KNOW, AS A YOUNG PERSON, AS A CHILD, I THINK YOU NEED THAT VALIDATION FROM AN ADULT THAT SAYS, OKAY, YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES. SO, IT'S NOT A -- I SHOULD SAY QUICKLY, DON'T TAKE THIS AS A SLAM AGAINST THOSE THAT I SAY I DON'T RESPECT. IT'S JUST THAT WHEN A TEACHER TAKES AN INTEREST IN YOU AT THAT AGE, IT MEANS A LOT TO A YOUNG PERSON. AS YOU GET OLDER, YOU HAVE TO TRANSCEND THAT NEED TO HAVE VALIDATION FROM OTHERS. IT HAS TO BE MORE INTERNAL, EVEN NOW EVEN AT MY AGE NOW, IT STILL MEANS SOMETHING. IT MEANT MORE AT THE TIME. SO, WHEN THE TEACHERS WILL PULL YOU IN AND SAY, LOOK, DO YOU HAVE A TALENT -- WHEN I GOT TO MIT AS MY FIRST YEAR AT MIT, I REMEMBER THAT IT REQUIRED A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF FOCUS, A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF, YOU KNOW, SORT OF BLOCKING OUT DISTRACTION. AND THE GOOD THING ABOUT MIT WAS ALL YOUR GRADES FRESHMAN YEAR WERE -- THERE WERE NO LETTER GRADES. YOU EITHER PASS IT HAD OR YOU FAILED IT. AND I REMEMBER I WASN'T DOING AS WELL AS -- I WASN'T DOING WELL. LET'S JUST BE BLUNT. I WASN'T DOING WELL AT ALL. IT WAS THE NORTHEAST, NOT THE SOUTH WHICH I WAS USED TO. IT WAS A FASTER PACE. AND, AND A NUMBER OF OTHER THINGS THAT WERE DIFFERENT WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG AT THAT AGE, LOTS OF DISTRACTION. SO, I DO REMEMBER MY FIRST EXAM AT MIT. THE INSTRUCTOR, IT WAS PASS/FAIL. I WAS ONLY A COUPLE POINTS ABOVE THE PASS/FAIL CUT OFF. I JUST BARELY PASSED IT. SO, AT THAT POINT THE PROFESSOR CALLED EACH OF THE STUDENTS IN FOR A ONE ON ONE SESSION. AND HE TALKED TO US INDIVIDUALLY. SO, I WAS PREPARED WHEN I WENT INTO THIS MEETING FOR HIM TO TELL ME -- TO GIVE ME THE LECTURE ABOUT HOW I'M GOING TO HAVE TO DO BETTER AND IF I WANT A CAREER IN PHYSICS, THEN IT'S GOING TO REQUIRE SOMETHING THAT, YOU KNOW, I HAVEN'T SHOWN EVIDENCE FOR YET. SO, YOU CAN IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN HE PULLED ME IN AND SAID, YOU KNOW, YOU WERE ONLY A FEW POINTS ABOVE PASSING, BUT YOU SOLVED THIS ONE PROBLEM IN A WAY I HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE. I'VE BEEN TEACHING SEVERAL DECADES, AND I'VE NEVER SEEN A STUDENT SOLVE THIS PROBLEM THIS WAY. IT WAS A RATHER SIMPLE PROBLEM IN RETROSPECT. IT WAS AN INCLINE PROBLEM. IF YOU SHOOT A BALL FROM A CANON ALONG AN INCLINE PLANE, THEN WHERE DOES THE BALL AT A CERTAIN ANGLE, WHERE DOES IT HIT THE GROUND. WHAT I HAD DONE WAS, A LOT OF STUDENTS WOULD TRY TO TRANSFORM THIS IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU HAVE I GUESS A LEVEL SURFACE AND THEN THE CANON AT A DIFFERENT ANGLE SO YOU CAN CALCULATE WHERE IT WOULD HIT THE GROUND. AND I DID A DIFFERENT TRANSFORMATION IN A WAY THAT OTHERS HADN'T DONE. I TRANSFORMED THE COORDINATE SYSTEMS IN A WAY THAT HADN'T BEEN DONE BEFORE. SO, THAT STUCK WITH ME. HE WAS MY FIRST INSTRUCTOR AT MIT. HE'S NOW AN ENDOWED PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND. THAT'S ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF, YOU KNOW, A REMARK THAT STUCK WITH ME. AND IT GAVE ME THE VALIDATION THAT I NEEDED AT A YOUNG AGE.

HOST: NOT TO PUT -- WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VALIDATION AND INSPIRATION? ARE THEY ONE AND THE SAME IN YOU USE BOTH TERMS.

IN MY CASE I THINK THEY'RE DIFFERENT. ~ VALIDATION -- SO, YOU KNOW, JUST TO PUT IT IN OTHER TERMS OUTSIDE OF SCIENCE, WHEN YOU'RE A YOUNG GUY, ALL RIGHT, SO, YOU NEED -- I'LL CALL IT VALIDATION. YOU MAY CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE. HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT GIRLS LIKE YOU OR DON'T LIKE YOU? HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT, YOU KNOW, IF YOU'RE NOT AN ATHLETE OR IF YOU'RE NOT -- IF YOU DON'T SING, YOU DON'T HAVE A SINGING VOICE, HOW DO YOU KNOW, HOW DO YOU STACK UP AGAINST OTHER GUYS WHO ARE ALSO COMPETING FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE WOMEN IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? SO, YOU NEED THAT ONE WOMAN THAT WILL VALIDATE YOU, YOU KNOW, AS A PERSON WHO IS JUST A TOTAL LOSER. SO IN SCIENCE IT'S THE SAME. THE ANALOGY IN SCIENCE IS IT'S THE COM PETITIVE FIELD. YOU HAVE OTHER STUDENTS -- WHEN I WAS AT MIT, EVEN IN HIGH SCHOOL, THERE WERE OTHER STUDENTS THAT WERE JUST REALLY BRIGHT. HOW DO YOU STACK UP AGAINST THEM? HOW DO YOU COMPETE WITH THEM? HOW DO YOU SAY THAT I WANT TO GO INTO PHYSICS AND I HAVE A PATH TO SUCCESS IN PHYSICS THAT CAN COMPARE WELL, THAT CAN COMPETE WITH THESE OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE EQUALLY TALENTED. LETS AFT JUST SAY THEY DIDN'T GET THERE ON THE FORCE OF THEIR PERSONALITY. THEY'RE JUST BRIGHT. SO, WE ALL TAKE THE SAME EXAMS, WE ALL DO REASONABLY WELL ON THE EXAMS. SO, WHAT IS IT THAT TELLS YOU THAT YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? AND I THINK WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG, AGAIN, WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I THINK I NEEDED TO HEAR THAT FROM THE PEOPLE WHO I RESPECTED, THE PEOPLE WHO TOOK AN INTEREST IN ME, THE PEOPLE WHO TAUGHT THE COURSES, WHO WERE DOING THE RESEARCH THAT I ENJOYED. I THINK INSPIRATION IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I THINK IN MY OWN CASE -- SO, AS AN EXAMPLE, ONCE WE DISCOVERED THIS NEW PARTICLE AT THE LAC AND THE ANNOUNCEMENT WAS MADE LAST YEAR, THEN I HAD AN IDEA OF NOW THAT WE'VE DISCOVERED IT, WHAT'S NEXT? AND TO TRY TO -- AND THE INSPIRATION WAS MAYBE THERE'S A WAY TO ANALYZE THIS DATA AND TO USE THIS NEWLY DISCOVERED PARTICLE TO ACCESS SOMETHING THAT WE WEREN'T ABLE TO ACCESS BEFORE WITH THE PARTICLES THAT WE HAD UP UNTIL LAST YEAR. SO, YOU KNOW, THAT'S WHAT I CONSIDER INSPIRATION. IT COMES NOT FROM OUTSIDE NECESSARILY, THE VALIDATION FROM OUTSIDE. IT COMES FROM, YOU KNOW -- THERE IS A LOT OF READING, A LOT OF DISCUSSIONS WITH PEOPLE, ARGUING WITH PEOPLE, ARGUING THE FINER POINTS OF PHYSICS. I THINK THOSE TWO IN MY CASE IS DIFFERENT IN THE WAY I DEFINE THEM.

HOST: YOU ARRIVED AT THE GATES, AS IT WERE, OF MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY.

CORRECT.

HOST: A YOUNG MAN OF COLOR FROM THE DEEP SOUTH. IN A CITY WHICH HAS HAD MORE THAN ITS OWN SHARE OF RACIAL ANIMOSITIES AND SUSPICION AND SO FORTH.

CORRECT.

HOST: DID YOU DOUBT YOURSELF? YOU SPOKE OF DISTRACTIONS A MOMENT AGO WHEN YOU GOT TO MIT.

YEAH, I MEAN, I DON'T THINK IT WAS JUST ME. WHEN YOU'RE A YOUNG PERSON, AFRICAN-AMERICAN OR OTHERWISE, YOU'RE AWAY FROM HOME THE FIRST TIME, YEAH. SO, WHAT DO YOU DO? WHAT DID I DO? I REMAINED FOCUSED, BUT YEAH, THERE WERE JUST MORE -- LET'S JUST SAY THERE WERE MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO DO OTHER THINGS THAN JUST STUDY. [LAUGHTER]

HOST: YOU WERE EVERY FRESHMAN IN THAT SENSE, WEREN'T YOU?

THAT'S THE POINT EXACTLY. EXACTLY. MIT WAS DIFFERENT. BOSTON WAS DIFFERENT. AND AS YOU CORRECTLY POINTED OUT, THERE WAS -- THIS IS DURING THE TIME WHEN THERE WAS RACIAL TENSIONS IN THE CITY THAT SEEMED NOT TO EXIST AT LEAST AS INTENSELY NOW AS IT DID THEN. MIT ALSO HAD ITS SHARE OF -- THERE WERE GROWING PAINS. MIT HAD DECIDED A FEW YEARS BEFORE THAT THAT THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE IT A POINT TO BRING IN MINORITY STUDENTS. IN MY CASE, YOUNG AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDENTS. SO, THEY WANTED TO KEEP THE SAME RIGOR THAT WAS THERE FOR ALL THE STUDENTS, BUT THEY ALSO WANTED TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. AND THAT IS TO BRING YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WERE BRIGHT, BUT WHO DIDN'T COME FROM THE TRADITIONAL BACKGROUND, PERHAPS, THAT THEY WERE USED TO. SO, SO, YOU KNOW, IT'S LIKE ANYWHERE ELSE. THE STUDENTS WHO WERE NOT STUDENTS OF COLOR, WHO BECAME MY FRIENDS ARE LIFELONG FRIENDS. I STILL STAY IN TOUCH WITH THEM NOW. THE FRIENDS WHO ARE AFRICAN-AMERICAN, THEY'RE LIFELONG FRIENDS. AND THE STUDENTS AND ADMINISTRATORS WHO HAD A PROBLEM WITH PEOPLE OF COLOR COMING IN AND THE WAY WE DID, WE JUST IGNORED THEM AND GO ON.

HOST: AND NOW, THE WHOLE SCIENTIFIC RULE, MUCH OF THE LAY WORLD, IF YOU WILL, IS WATCHING DR. BAKER AND HIS COLLEAGUES AS THEY BREAK NEW GROUND IN PARTICLE PHYSICS.

CORRECT. THAT'S CORRECT.

HOST: YOU'RE IN SWITZERLAND MUCH OF THE TIME.

I AM.

HOST: SMASHING PROTONS. AGAIN, I APOLOGIZE FOR --

NO, IT'S FINE. THE KIND OF PHYSICS THAT I DO REQUIRES THAT YOU GO TO VERY HIGH ENERGIES. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? IT MEANS THAT -- IT MEANS THAT IF YOU LOOK BACK AT THE TURN OF THE LAST CENTURY, THE WAY WE WERE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND MATTER AT THE LEVEL WHERE THERE WERE ELECTRONS AND DENSE NUCLEUS THAT IN THIS MODEL OF THE ATOM WAS BY SLAMMING PROTONS OR CHARGED PARTICLES INTO A SHEET OF FOIL, ALUMINUM FOIL, AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. SO, THERE WERE, FOR EXAMPLE, MODELS AT THE TIME, IT WAS CALLED THE PLUM PUDDING MODEL, WHERE THERE WERE EQUAL SORT OF DISTRIBUTIONS OF POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE CHARGE. SO, YOU CAN IMAGINE THE SURPRISE WHEN PEOPLE ACCELERATED THESE CHARGE PARTICLES UP TO A CERTAIN ENERGY AND SLAMMED THEM INTO A GOLD FOIL AND SOME OF THESE CHARGED PARTICLES, HEAVY CHARGED PARTICLES BOUNCED BACK. THIS JUST COMPLETELY KILLED THE IDEA OF THE MODEL WHAT'S CALLED THE PLUM PUDDING MODEL. SO, WE KNEW THEN THERE HAD TO BE SOME VERY DENSE NUCLEUS THAT THESE CHARGED PARTICLES WERE SCATTERING OFF OF. IT WAS HEAVY, IT WAS BIG. AND THE ELECTRONS THAT SURROUNDED IT, THEY DIDN'T STOP THESE HEAVY PARTICLES. SO, THEN YOU SAY, OKAY, IF I LEARN SOMETHING NEW WITH THESE ENERGIES, LET'S BUILD A MACHINE THAT HAS AN EVEN HIGHER ENERGY AND SEE WHAT WE LEARN. THAT'S WHAT WE DID. SO, THEN, WHEN WE START TO BUILD HIGH ENERGY MACHINES, HIGHER ENERGY THAN THOSE SIMPLE MACHINES AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, THE 19TH CENTURY, THEN YOU STARTED TO UNDERSTAND OTHER THINGS. YOU STARTED TO UNDERSTAND THAT NOT ONLY WAS THERE A DENSE CORE IN AN ATOM, BUT IF YOU STARTED TO PENETRATE DEEPER INTO THE CORE, YOU FOUND THAT THERE WERE OTHER THINGS INSIDE OF IT AND THESE WERE CORK. ONE OF MY PROFESSORS AT MIT WON THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR THAT. HE SLAMMED ELECTRONS INTO A PROTON AND PUT HIS DETECTOR AT A BACKWARD ANGLE AND SAW SOMETIMES THESE ELECTRONS SCATTERED BACK IN A WAY THAT INDICATED THAT THERE WAS STILL SOMETHING EVEN SMALLER AND DENSER INSIDE OF THE NUCLEUS. ~ SO, THE HIGHER THE ENERGY YOU GO, THE MORE YOU UNDER ABOUT YOUR WORLD. THE MORE YOU UNDERSTAND ABOUT NATURE. IT'S JUST, IT'S JUST THE WAY WE DO PHYSICS. THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO DO T BUT THIS IS THE WAY I DO IT. SO, NOW TO FIND THIS LATER DISCOVERY, WE HAD TO HAVE THE HIGHEST ENERGY -- A HIGHER ENERGY THAT HAD EVER BEEN -- A HIGHER ENERGY ACCELERATED THAN HAD EVER BEEN BUILT BEFORE. AND IN THE U.S. WE WERE GOING TO BUILD ONE DOWN IN TEXAS, BUT IT WAS CANCELED SOME YEARS AGO. SO, THE NEXT HIGHEST ENERGY MACHINE WAS GOING TO BE BUILT IN EUROPE IN GENEVA, THE BORDER BETWEEN SWITZERLAND AND FRANCE. AND IN ORDER TO DISCOVER THIS THING WHICH WE CALL THE HIX PARTICLE, YOU HAVE TO HAVE REALLY, REALLY HIGH ENERGY. AND THAT'S WHAT WE DID. YOU HAD TO HAVE HIGH ENERGY. YOU HAD TO HAVE LOTS OF THESE COLLISIONS, AND THAT GAMBLE PAID OFF. WE SPENT A LOT OF MONEY, A LOT OF MONEY ON THIS. A LOT OF PEOPLE WORKED FOR MANY DECADES ON THIS, BUT THE GAMBLE PAID OFF --

HOST: PAYING OFF HOW? TRANSLATE THAT, DOCTOR, FOR THOSE OF US, THE LAY PUBLIC. YOU GUYS ARE OUT THIS PLAYING WITH THESE MULTI-MILLION DOLLARS . HOW DOES THIS AFFECT ME?

NO, NO, EXACTLY. SO, FIRST OF ALL, BY PAYOFF, HERE'S A NEW DISCOVERY. WE JUST DISCOVERED A PARTICLE THAT'S UNLIKE ANYTHING THAT'S EVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE. WE UNDERSTAND ABOUT ELECTRONS AND POSITRONS. WE UNDERSTAND ABOUT CORK AND GLUONS, WE UNDERSTAND ABOUT NEURONS AND TAONS AND ZEBONS AND W-BOSONS. HERE'S SOMETHING NEW. IN ALL OF THESE DECADES, CENTURIES, WE CREATED THIS PARTICLE CALLED -- THIS HIX BOSON THAT NOW WE KNOW THAT -- HERE'S SOME NEW PHYSICS, SOME NEW PHENOMENA. LET'S STUD IT. LET'S SEE WHERE THIS LEADS US. SO, YOU ASK WHY SHOULD YOU CARE. I ALWAYS GET MYSELF INTO TROUBLE WHEN I ANSWER THIS QUESTION. OKAY. SO, WHY STOP NOW? I'LL JUST SAY THAT. YOU'RE AFRAID TO GET IN TROUBLE. I PERSONALLY THINK THAT THE KIND OF RESEARCH, THE BASIC RESEARCH SHOULD BE DONE, NOT ENTIRELY BECAUSE THERE IS A SPIN-OFF, BECAUSE IT MAKES A BETTER WIDGET. I THINK THAT YOU HAVE TO DO SOME RESEARCH THAT YOU DO BECAUSE IT HELPS YOU TO UNDERSTAND YOUR WORLD. IT HELPS YOU TO UNDERSTAND YOUR CREATION. OTHERWISE, WHY AREN'T WE JUST DRAGGING OUR KNUCKLES SCRATCHING FOR FOOD? BUT HAVING SAID THAT, YOU KNOW, ONCE WE UNDERSTOOD HOW THE ELECTRONS -- THERE IS THIS -- I MEAN, THE ATOM WAS MADE, THAT THERE'S THESE ELECTRONS THAT'S AROUND THIS NUCLEUS, ONCE WE LEARN THAT SOME YEARS LATER, WE LEARN TO SEPARATE THEM. YOU LEARN YOU CAN SEPARATE ELECTRONS FROM THE NUCLEUS. YOU CAN THEN CHANNEL THESE ELECTRONS ALONG WIRES AND YOU CAN MAKE ELECTRICAL CURRENTS. NOW TAKE THAT A STEP FURTHER. YOU CAN DO LIGHT, MAKE THESE LIGHTS THAT YOU CAN PLUG INTO A WALL. YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO HAVE CARE SEEN WITH THE FILAMENT THAT YOU STRIKE A MATCH IN IT TO LIGHT A ROOM. ~ WE LEARN OTHER THINGS. WE LEARN, FOR EXAMPLE, THAT THESE PROTONS HAVE A CERTAIN INTRINSIC SPIN. YOU LEARN THIS FROM THESE EXPERIMENTS. NOW THAT YOU KNOW THESE PROTONS SPIN AND THEY REACT TO A MAGNETIC FIELD IN SOME WAY, YOU CAN USE THAT TO LOOK FOR CANCER IN PEOPLE. YOU CAN USE MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING TO TELL THE CANCER TISSUE FROM THE NONCANCEROUS TISSUE AND MAYBE PROVIDE TREATMENTS FOR IT. YOU CAN LEARN THAT NOW, INSTEAD OF ME HAVING ONLY INFORMATION THAT'S IN A BOOK THAT'S RIGHT HERE ON MY LAP, I CAN GO TO THE BOX, I CAN TYPE IN ANY WORDS THAT I WANT AND THE INFORMATION COMES TO ME. I DON'T REALLY EVEN CARE WHERE IT COMES FROM. IT'S DISTRIBUTED INFORMATION, THE WORLDWIDE WEB, THAT I CAN LEARN ABOUT ANYTHING THAT I WANT. I CAN BE IN CONNECTICUT AND TYPE IN STEVE BARNES AND I CAN FIND OUT WHATEVER IS OUT THERE ABOUT YOU --

HOST: OH, OH.

SO, THAT WAS INVENTED BY, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE LIKE MY -- PARTICLE PHYSICISTS WANTING TO SHARE THIS INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR DATA. SO, THAT SORT OF APPLICATION OF THE BASIC RESEARCH CONTINUES. GRID COMPUTING WAS SOMETHING THAT I WORKED ON EARLY ON IN MY CAREER. NOT SO MUCH DEVELOPING IT, BUT THE APPLICATION. AND NOW WE HAVE CLOUD COMPUTING. AND WHO KNOWS WHAT IS GOING TO COME BEYOND THAT. AGAIN, I'M BEING WORDY IN MAKING THE POINT. I PERSONALLY DON'T THINK WE SHOULD GO INTO BASIC RESEARCH JUST BECAUSE WE SAY THERE IS AN APPLICATION THAT'S WAITING. THE APPLICATION MAY NOT EVEN HAPPEN IN MY GENERATION. IT MAY BE IN MY GRANDCHILDREN'S GENERATION THAT THEY LEARN TO APPLY THIS NEWLY DISCOVERED PARTICLE TO MAKE THEIR LIFE -- MAKE SOME WIDGET, TO MAKE SOME NEW PRODUCT THAT IMPROVES YOUR LIFE. BUT I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, THE FACT THIS IS A NEW DISCOVERY, SOMETHING NEW, IT IS INTRINSICALLY IMPORTANT AND INTERESTING.

HOST: SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY, OFTEN CALLED THE GOD PARTNER IN THE LAITY, ANYWAY, THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY DOESN'T LIKE IT. IT IS CONVENIENT SHORTHAND, I SUPPOSE.

THE HISTORY BEHIND THIS IS -- AT LEAST THE WAY I UNDERSTAND IT AND MOST OF US UNDER IT -- IT HAS -- FIRST OF ALL, THERE ARE NO RELIGIOUS OR PHILOSOPHICAL IMPLICATIONS. I'M NOT EVEN SURE WHY PEOPLE WRITE WITH A CAPITAL G. SOME CALL IT THE GOD PARTICLE. I WOULDN'T SAY PEOPLE DON'T LIKE IT. IT'S JUST THAT WE TEND TO IGNORE IT BECAUSE IT CONFUSES THE LAY PEOPLE. THE PERSON WHO, AS I UNDERSTAND COINED THE PHRASE, GOD PARTICLE, WROTE A BOOK ABOUT THIS AND HOW HARD IT WAS TO DISCOVER THIS PARTICLE. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR IT FOR AWHILE. IT WAS SO ELUSIVE, SO HARD TO PIN DOWN THAT HE WANTED TO EXPRESS ~ -- OKAY. HE WANTED TO EXPRESS HOW ANNOYED HE WAS AT HOW HARD IT WAS TO MAKE THIS PARTICLE. HE GAVE IT -- HE WANTED TO NAME THE BOOK THAT HE WROTE A CERTAIN -- HE WANTED TO GIVE IT A CERTAIN TITLE TO EXPRESS THAT ANNOYANCE AND THE EDITORS SAID, OKAY, WE CAN'T PRINT THE BOOK WITH THIS GOD PARTICLE.

HOST: ARE YOU HAVING FUN DOING THIS?

I ALWAYS ENJOY TALKING ABOUT WHAT I DO.

HOST: WE'RE OUT OF TIME ON OUR PROGRAM. IF YOU CAN HANG ON A LITTLE WHILE, I WILL FIND OUT THE OVERTHE AIR AUDIENCE, THE OVER THE AIR BROADCAST, WE'LL INVITE THE AUDIENCE AND WE'LL CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION IN AN EXTENDED ONLINE CONVERSATION. THANKS FOR JOINING US. WE HOPE YOU'LL STICK AROUND ONLINE FOR MORE.

AETN.org > Programs > Barnes and... > Barnes and... A Conversation with Oliver Keith Baker