Wednesday, February 18, 2009

High-Energy Physics Probes Ancient Fossils

First of all, there's nothing wrong with this article. It describes how x-ray from a synchrotron facility is used to study ancient fossils. All fine and dandy, and I can point to another application of synchrotron centers.

What is misleading is the title. "High-Energy Physics Probes Ancient Fossils". "High energy physics", at least in physics circles, means "elementary particles, particle colliders, etc. A synchrotron center is NOT a "high energy physics" facility. There's no particle collider there. In fact, in the US, synchrotron centers are not funded by the High Energy Physics office in the Office of Science, but funded under the Basic Energy Sciences office.

So synchrotron facilities are not "high energy physics" facility. What is more appropriate here is to attribute it to "Accelerator physics". I've attempted several times on here to indicate that accelerator physics is not the same as high energy physics, and remove many misconception about it.

The problem here is that this isn't just a cosmetic issue. Accelerator physics doesn't get the same recognition, and certainly does not enter into the consciousness of students when they choose a specialization. Yet, if you look at many of the advances in physics, both in high energy and in x-ray/light sources, it is the advancement in accelerator physics that made all of those possible. High energy physics, for example, will cease to have any more advances in experimental capability beyond the ILC (if it gets built at all) if those in the accelerator physics community do not come up with new physics to accelerate particles more compactly and cheaper than the current methods. No one is going to want to spend $20 billion or more to build a 100 km particle accelerator. Without any new innovation in accelerator physics, the next frontier of energy in experimental high energy physics will never be realized.

So no, this article has nothing to do with "high energy physics". It has, however, everything to do with accelerator physics and the various uses one can get out of it.



Anonymous said...

are high energy cosmic rays considered high energy physics?

ZapperZ said...

Kinda, or partly. There is now a new field of study called "particle astrophysics". Something like the Auger observatory and neutrino studies would be covered within this area.