Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Benefits of Particle Physics

To a large extent, it has always been very difficult to point to the "economic benefits" for esoteric areas of physics, such as particle physics, astrophysics/astronomy/cosmology, and even to some extent, nuclear physics (example: RHIC). It is always a tough sell to the public when one is asked "Well, how does that affect my well-being?". Unlike, say, condensed matter physics, where one can always find a direct benefit that translates into various consumer electronics and application, the areas that I've mentioned above has more to do with seeking basic understanding of fundamental knowledge, rather than seeking direct application of that knowledge.

Yet, no one can deny that the efforts in building particle colliders, etc. have resulted in tangible benefits to humankind. But quantifying such benefits have been very difficult, especially if it wants to be used as the selling point. Still, maybe it is time for the particle physics community to actually do careful analysis of this factor to used as a selling point to the politicians and the general public. This is the main point that David Harris over at Symmetry tries to make. After all, it is this lack of selling point that could easily be the root-cause on why physics, and high energy physics in particular, is always the first one to get short-changed whenever there is a pressure on the budget to cut cost. Most do not see any harm in not funding such an area.

If all the politicians can understand is how such-and-such impacts their way of life, then you TELL them. Having such a proper study done on the economic impact of particle physics may be the worthwhile endeavor in selling the importance of the field of study.


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