Sijbrand de Jong – Particles, waves and energy


Before the lecture of Sijbrand de Jong started, I was really curious what his link with health care would be, after reading his summary on the website of TEDxNijmegen about “electron-proton colliders” and “LEP electron positron”. Where is the patient in this story? Where is the connection with life – besides the fact that we are all made of electrons and protons since our body consists of molecules?

Lucien Engelen introduces Sijbrand de Jong and invited him to TEDxNijmegen to explain the impact of the discovery of the Higgs particle for healthcare. To do so, Sijbrand uses a metaphor. With rolled up trousers he imagines he is on the beach (the stage) and that we (the audience) are the sea. Suddenly, someone in the audience starts screaming for help! Sijbrand wants to rescue her and starts his Baywatch act by running and swimming to her “as fast as he can”, in a direct line. However, the direct line is not the fastest path, since you can move faster over sand than over water. You should first walk a longer path over the beach to make sure that you have the shortest line in the sea.

The beach story refers to the way light travels through air and water. Sijbrand uses an aquarium and a green light beamer to demonstrate that “the weight of wet light is more than dry light” referring to Einstein’s famous formula E=mc2.

I am not sure if I have really understood his complicated research about particles, waves and energy. But what I will keep in mind is the application for healthcare.  Sijbrand’s experiments in CERN contribute to our understanding of the interaction of radiation with matter. This way we can learn how to decrease the damage done in healthy tissue by radiation before it hits the target (e.g. the cancer). Another application is the development of colour X-ray, which makes a coloured picture of your organs.

Luckily, the drowning lady in the audience does not need any X-rays or radiation therapy. In the end, Sijbrand de Jong rescues her by using the fastest and not the shortest path.

A live bog by Karin van Haren