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Community Lecture: “If I can’t see it, does it matter?”

22 August 2008

On the evening of August 21, 2008, Marcello Pavan, TRIUMF scientist, carried a large cardboard box of green and red plastic balls into the Old Barn Community Centre. “Don’t give the surprise away,” he told me as I taped the small balls together to model the nucleus of a large atom. That evening, Marcello talked to a group of curious adults and youngsters about what an atom is, how scientists can “see” them, and how isotopes decay and are used at TRIUMF.

Showing the audience what an atom looks like, Marcello guided listeners to learn a little more about the world around them. He also explained how scientists can study atoms (by using another atom the same size or smaller), and introduced them to what TRIUMF scientists do with such atoms.

What happened with the red-and-green-ball nucleus? Gingerly holding the fragile ball away from himself, Marcello had a volunteer throw a “proton” (a rubber ball) at a “target nucleus” (the taped balls) to break pieces off, just as scientists do at TRIUMF with high-speed protons from the world’s largest cyclotron accelerator. Showing the audience that the torn off pieces made different, smaller atomic nuclei, such as lithium or helium, he introduced the idea of radioactive decay of isotopes.

At the end of the successful evening, between mouthfuls of cookies and gulps of juice, the younger members of the audience eagerly asked numerous questions such as, “If gravity is so weak, could you stand on an asteroid small enough so that you would float just a few feet off the ground?”

Do you know the answer?

I’d like to find out - email me your idea!

By Nicole Dublanko
TRIUMF's Communications Assistant