Thursday, May 10, 2007

Follow Up To "Is Too Much Physics Bad For Astronomy?"

This is a follow up on the bees hornet what was stirred by Simon White. In another physics forum, someone mentioned of the clash between the two cultures of high energy/particle physics and astronomy. Particle physicists are used to working collaboratively in large groups, while astronomers then to work in smaller groups, or even individually.

I think it would be sad if such a thing is the main argument in this article. Creativity can come from many different ways, both from individuals, and from groups of people. You can't just demand it or predict it like that. Furthermore, working in large groups isn't the only "skill" that Particle physicists have. While it is true that a large part of particle physics involves colliders and accelerators, this is not the only expertise that experimental particle physicists have that happens to be useful in other areas of astronomy and astrophysics. Their knowledge of detectors, especially in detecting high-energy particles such as TeV neutrinos and other energetic cosmic rays, are proving to be extremely useful in various astrophysics experiments. Two that currently stand out are Veritas and the Auger Observatory. Both of these are what most people would think to be an astronomy/astrophysics projects. Yet, there's a huge involvement of high-energy physicists in both of them. At the other extent, projects such as the Dark Energy Survey that many would consider to be an astrophysics project seems more to be a high-energy physics experiment. In fact, such experiment might be one of those that White objected to in his article. Yet, while its main purpose is to study the dark energy phenomenon, there is still a wealth of physics that could be gained out of the info being gathered, the same way that the WMAP survey just doesn't give only one "data" point or one piece of info even though it is only doing essentially one thing.

Things change and evolve, including the way we do science. High energy physicists have a lot more to gripe about especially the state of their funding and their field, something White didn't consider. When you have an outstanding and prestigious facility that had produced a series of incredible discovery suddenly changing its colors from a particle collider facility under your control to a "light source" under control of a different field of physics, I'd say you have A LOT to complain about. That is what is happening to SLAC. Yet, they move on and adapt to the situation, especially when most of it is beyond their control, and one of their ways of adapting is to move into areas that are slowly merging into their field - astrophysics/astronomy.

This, btw, is not that uncommon. Atomic/molecular field of study has overlapping interest in condensed matter physics in BE condensation. Even condensed matter physicists have dabbled in elementary particle physics. In all of these cases, I've only seen how such fields are strengthened by the "new blood", especially when different ideas and different ways of doing things are brought in. So in some aspect, I don't quite understand the complain in this article.


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