The Grand Experiment

People are an endless source of fascination. And the randomness of an everyday encounter still baffles me....

I first met The Waffle Man at a hostel in Tucson, Arizona. He was moving around the cavernous kitchen with a single focus, oblivious to others in the room. I struck up conversation, but his responses were clipped. Clearly he was not in the mood to talk. Typically, I'm not chatty in the morning either, so why I's still a mystery to me.

With those extremely short answers, I wondered, "Was he blowing me off...or just distracted?" The puzzle intensified when he had trouble answering simple questions like, "Where is home?" I learned he was in town for a conference. He was German. When I told him I was from Seattle, he said, "Me too!" Well, not currently, but he used to live in Seattle....

The story began to unfold:

While living in Seattle, he pursued a PhD at the University of Washington. This curious mind wanted to know, "In what?"


By nature, I'm not a science buff or a math whiz so ordinarily, that would have ended the conversation right there. Except...I asked him, "What was the subject of your dissertation?"

Things came to a grinding halt. He looked at me directly for the first time and said, "You really want to know?"

Of course the conversation was quickly moving over my head, but I mumbled, "Sure, why not?"

His response sounded something like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wah-wa-wah-wa-wah." (My eyes glazed over almost immediately.)

Hoping to get some piece of information I could latch on to, I feigned interest and said, "Hmm...Tell me more about that..."

His eyes lit up. "Usually people outside my field don't care about such things. This is really great!"

It goes without saying...he commenced with more, "Wah-wa-wah-wa-wah."

The one thing that caught my attention? The project he works on is based in Switzerland. Ah, travel. We can talk about travel! I carefully navigated the conversation to beautiful Switzerland...and the European backpack trip I took many moons ago....

Flash forward to today.

To be precise, "The Waffle Man" is Dr. Uwe Bratzler, a nuclear particle physicist who came to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship. After graduating from the University of Washington, he was offered a job in Germany at the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics (Albert Einstein was the first director). From there, he went to work at CERN--located just outside Geneva, Switzerland. Under the Max-Planck helm at CERN, he was a project leader working on ATLAS at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Dubbed the "World's Largest Experiment," both the ATLAS and the LHC are at the center of media interest these days. This collaborative project involves thousands of scientists and engineers from around the world and summer 2008, the project reaches its pinnacle. (Photo Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

In relative terms, my knowledge about his project is still very limited. However, in recent months, it has received quite a bit of press in the mainstream media outlets. The New York Times followed their project. And this month, National Geographic has a fascinating piece as well.


While he's in town, Uwe will be giving a presentation at Seattle's Town Hall. If you'd like to join us, the event is open to the public and admission is just $5.

Here's the Seattle Weekly announcement:

Over in Switzerland, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is preparing to run the most powerful machine on Earth, the large hadron collider (LHC), in hopes that smashing particles together will simulate the Big Bang and unlock the mysteries of the universe or at least a couple of them. Know as the ATLAS Experiment, the project could help determine the origin of mass, possibly by producing the Higgs boson, aka the "God Particle." It seems to me that the experiment, which will boast 40 million collisions per second, doesn't come without risks, such as inadvertently creating another universe. Here to explain why that doesn't make sense is Uwe Bratzler, Ph. D, a UW graduate and a physicist working on ATLAS, who'll explain the magic of the machine.

March 5, 7:30 pm

1119 Eighth Ave.
(206) 652-4255
$5 at the door

To learn more about ATLAS and the LHC, the New York Times has a great multimedia presentation here.

And catch BBC video here: