Advanced physics lab shuns PowerPoint, embraces the white board

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  March 7, 2014 at 4:43 PM EDT
Inside Fermilab's Tevatron facility in 2011. The physics lab has banned Powerpoint presentations. Photo by Flickr user Michael Kappel

Inside Fermilab’s Tevatron facility in 2011. The physics lab has banned Powerpoint presentations. Photo by Flickr user Michael Kappel

The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory – better known as Fermilab – is home to some of the most advanced technology in the world.

Data collected from the Illinois laboratory’s Tevatron atom smasher contributed to 2012’s headline-grabbing discovery of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” whose theoretical existence had remained unconfirmed for fifty years.

And last month, Fermilab physicists announced that a 450-mile-long underground neutrino experiment had yielded its first results, which scientists believe will pave the way toward better understanding the universe’s earliest moments.

With so much technological innovation going on across the lab’s campus, one might be surprised to walk into one of Fermilab’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Physics Center forums and see presenters using nothing more than a whiteboard and colored marker — no PowerPoint slides allowed.

According to Fermilab’s daily newsletter, the forum banned computerized slides six months ago in an effort to better engage audiences. “Without slides, the participants go further off-script, with more interaction and curiosity,” said Florida State University assistant professor Andrew Askew. “With only a whiteboard, you have your ideas and a pen in your hand.”

While the biweekly forums are attended primarily by academics, researchers and students, Fermilab appears to be increasing its efforts to reach the wider public as well. For this, though, they’re reverting back to the latest in technology: on Friday, they partnered with labs at Stanford and Berkeley to host a Twitter chat about dark energy.