The Law of Attraction: I will meet physicists

Alaina G. Levine reporting from Italy.

You’d think in a conference the size of the Euroscience Open Forum, with thousands of scientists, students, and journalists from all over the world, that I might run into a physicist or two. But it seemed that throughout the event, which wrapped up yesterday in Torino, Italy, every time I sat down next to someone and cheerfully introduced myself, the person to whom I announced “Boun giorno” was a physicist.

First there was Marco, an Italian particle physicist studying at the University of Torino. I met him in a session about food science. Then there was Filomen, a Greek particle physicist with a position at a university in Roma, with whom I shared a meal at the food court in the mall above the conference center. Then I chatted with another member of the brethren in the press room, and yet another at a party. With so little experimental data, you might come to the conclusion that the place was crawling with these guys.

But any scientist worth his hat would not jump to that resolution, and I am happy to report that I did manage to meet quite a few other experts in areas as diverse as regenerative biology and science philosophy. And that’s always the beauty of a meeting like this, particularly one as international as ESOF – you never know who you are going to bump into and from what nation they will come.

Why, just this evening, during a tour of the Royal Library of Torino, where we viewed the famous self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci and his Codex on the Flight of Birds, I met a leading Finnish expert on Leonardo’s art. He whipped out a couple of articles he had written on the master’s works and discussed with me the possibility that the self-portrait of Leonardo that we saw in La Biblioteca was not meant to be true to life, but actually was one of a number of self-drawn charactertures that Leonardo completed during his lifetime.

And speaking of meeting people from all over Il Mundo, then there was the journalist, a mentor to those of us who were attending ESOF on fellowships from the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Germany. Jim Cornell, the President of the International Science Writers Association, lives 10 miles from me in Tucson, Arizona, America. We met for the first time in a press conference in Italy.

Although I am still trying to condense all of the fascinating scientific knowledge I gained while here, I must confess that one of my top moments was when I ran into Harry Kroto in the hallway. In my continuing mission to have my picture taken with as many Nobels and scientific stars as possible, when I heard Harry speaking around the corner, I couldn’t help but jump in front of him and block his path. I didn’t tackle him to the ground, because like many of the Nobels with whom I have come in contact, he is very gracious and cordial and funny. Since I am a huge fan of buckyballs, having been mentored by Dr. Donald Huffman, one of the discoverers of the process to synthesize C60 in the lab, for most of my adult life, it’s always a treasured moment when I have the opportunity to speak with a buckyball baron. Harry (don’t call him Sir!), laughed with me for a few moments and then posed for this picture (I’m the one on the right). Ah, la dolci vita!

Tomorrow, which is now today, but will be yesterday, due to the time change across continents, I am heading to CERN for a one day trip. I am really getting a kick out of the fact that I am going to Switzerland, by bus, for one day. Why would anyone take a three hour tour across three countries in one day? It’s madness, I tell you. But we will pass through the Monte Blanc tunnel, so at least I will get something out of it. I certainly hope they have some pens in there. And I’m bringing an empty water bottle, so I will see if I can grab some Higgs Bosons while I am at CERN. According to a documentary narrated by Tom Hanks that I recently viewed, it should be quite easy to sneak some fundamental particles out of the facility. Sorry ATLAS, you snooze, you lose!

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