A short interview with Dr. Don Lincoln – Fermilab

Dr. Don Lincoln has kindly offered to help guide and offer advice on the production of my final masters project. The work aims to explore particle physics through an interactive medium, for a broad audience. I aim to use real scientific theory and data either as a basis for the project or inspiration. I have been incredibly lucky to have been introduced to Dr. Lincoln via Fermilab’s media department.

Dr. Don Lincoln - Fermilab

Dr. Don Lincoln – Fermilab

“Dr. Don Lincoln is a senior physicist at Fermilab, America’s flagship particle physics laboratory. He splits his research time between experiments done at Fermilab and the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. Co-author of over 500 scientific papers, he points to two scientific accomplishments that are particularly noteworthy, the discovery of the top quark in 1995 by the DZero experiment at Fermilab and the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012 by the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN” (Lincoln, 2014)



I contacted Dr. Lincoln and he kindly agreed to answer a few initial questions regarding the link between science and art.

Do you feel the link between science and art is important? If so, why?

Actually, that’s an interesting question and one that can go in many directions. Do I think that art plays any role in clarifying technical questions of nature? No. What one does is make predictions, then measurements and compare the two. This requires statistical and empirical methods.

However, with that said, there is an artistic aesthetic that can guide the building of theories. The laws of the universe seems to exhibit many symmetries. While the symmetries are distinct from artistic ones, there are broad similarities and physicists sometimes use their sense of aesthetics to guide their thinking. Of course, the universe is not obliged to respect the theory builder’s sense of beauty, but there are those whose sense of aesthetics matches well the universe.

In addition, it is possible to use art to assist a viewer to understand the intricacies of the universe. There are visual learners for whom the right image can convey understanding far better than any number of words. Science popularizers often turn to the aesthetic realm of art to lure in people who might otherwise be hesitant to pay any attention to science.

Have you previously collaborated with any artists? If so, do you feel that this helped to communicate your work?

Personally, I have only worked with video-making artists. (http://drdonlincoln.fnal.gov/index_files/Videos.htm). I do this through the video department at Fermilab and through the TED people. I do employ video to help explain science to a lay audience.

However, the CERN laboratory includes artists, as does Fermilab (my home lab). (http://arts.web.cern.ch/) Further some of my colleagues are artists. One such artist/physicist will draw figures for my various books.

I understand you feel as a scientist that it is your responsibility to communicate your research to a wide audience, why is this important to you and your work?

This has to do with my history. I grew up in a rural and poor region of the US. My father didn’t finish high school. Yet I am a Ph.D. physicist at America’s flagship particle physics laboratory and do research that has gained international notice. How did I get from my childhood to here? Well when I was young there were scientists who communicated to the public: Carl Sagan, James Burke, Isaac Asimov, George Gamow, etc. They fostered in me a love for the natural world and the way science looks at it.

There are poor people in the US today as well. I feel that I am repaying a debt (or at least trying to, given that I do not have the stature of at least 3 of those 4 people). Occasionally I’ve had a kid come up to me at Fermilab and ask me to sign a book. Sometimes they tell me that they are in physics because of something I wrote. So I’m doing something right, at least part of the time.

Another important reason I talk publicly about science is that I believe that it is important for scientists who benefit from taxpayer-funded research give back to the community. If the public knows what you are doing and the questions you are answering interest them, there is a higher chance that they will understand the value they receive from publicly funding of research. However (for me at least), this is entirely secondary. Most of my outreach is directed to a little me out there somewhere who may find that he or she loves science enough to break free of their environment and join the ranks of scientific professionals.

Dr. Lincoln works with Fermilab to produce videos that explain complex scientific theories in an easily accessible way. In some ways, it is exactly what I wish to do, but in a different format and artistic medium. I’ve embedded a couple below but you can find more at: http://drdonlincoln.fnal.gov/index_files/Videos.htm. A massive thank you to Dr. Don Lincoln for taking the time to respond to my questions and help shape this project.

What is a Higgs Boson?

What is Antimatter?

The Higgs Field, explained

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