Smack-talking physicists will throw down tonight at the U

It can be tough to explain the latest physics research without inducing a catatonic state.

But tonight, six scientists from around the U.S. will compete at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena to see who can do it — and make it sheer entertainment.

Their “Physics Slam on Ice” will tackle subjects such as nutrino oscillations, flavor physics and accelerator technology — not exactly the stuff of Hollywood summer blockbusters.

But their aim is to make that stuff fun — using humor, visuals and even a prop or two.

“One guy is going to blast onto the stage with a fire extinguisher on a sled,” said Dan Cronin-Hennessy, an associate professor at the U who is organizing the slam. “I wouldn’t let him do skates for safety reasons.”

(To get a taste of the presentations, click on the video above. Reigning champ Stuart Henderson’s presentation is at the 10-minute mark. Cronin-Hennessy says tonight’s presentations will be “a little bit more showy.”)

The group — from Fermilab, Yale, Indiana University, University of Pittsburgh, New York University and UC-Irvine — sounds like a competitive bunch. Most haven’t let out details of their presentation, Cronin-Hennessy said, so even he’s not sure what they’ll be doing.

“They’ve been trash-talking each other in emails for the past few weeks, saying they have secrets,” he said. “So they’re really getting into it.”

The physicists will each get 10 minutes for their presentations. An applause meter will determine the winner.

Underscoring the popular nature of the contest is the naming of University of Minnesota professor Jim Kakalios — author of “The Physics of Superheroes” — as moderator.

To make the competition even showier, officials will throw science-themed T-shirts into the audience and hold an iPad giveaway.

Behind all the entertainment, though, lies a serious aim, Cronin-Hennessy said:

“Physicists talk to physicists all the time, and we have a way of speaking to one another. But it’s not necessarily the best way to talk to the public about our research. … And so we have to be able to tell them why we do this, why it is important that we do it, and why they should let their precious tax dollars go to funding pure research — and particularly particle physics.”

The 8 p.m. show is free and part of a convention of particle physicists taking place in Minneapolis.

You can get more information about it here.