Friday, April 05, 2013

What Is An Electron?

OK, I am normally a fan of videos produced out of JLab (check the series of educational and hiliarious FrostBite theater videos). Unfortunately, this is a rather surprisingly weak production coming out of this lab, explaining what an electron is:

OK, a "tauon"? Is this really the common name that is used in place of the tau? The Standard Model chart that we distribute to people, and also the particle data book, both call this a "tau". I know we are arguing about something as trivial as the name here, but really, if there's no reason to call the same thing with different names, then we shouldn't!

But the bigger problem is this. He said "electrons are so small, we haven't been able to measure it.."!!! This is extremely misleading and possibly erroneous. We HAVE been able to measure it! That's how we know it has a charge, a spin, etc.. etc. What we haven't been able to measure, and what I think he meant, was that we haven't been able to measure its SIZE!

This is important because I can easily see getting someone coming into a physics forum, showing me this video and quoting this particular line as "evidence" that we haven't been able to measure an electron! Again, it is extremely crucial that, when we communicate to the public who has a weak understanding of science/physics, we pay extra attention to not only what we say, but how we say it. There are plenty of times where what we mean is not what they understood! This video contained way too many things stated almost in glib, and that's too bad considering the opportunity they had to inform and educate. It was as if this was done as an after thought.


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