Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Joy of Physics Isn’t in the Results, but in the Search Itself

I like this article. I like it a lot. It reflects more or less why many of us go into science, and physics in particular, even though the journey is long, uncertain, tedious, and the pay isn't that great when you compare to the effort. Very often, the journey in getting there is the joy in doing physics.

As the dark matter fever was rising a few weeks ago, I called Vera Rubin, the astronomer at the department of terrestrial magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who helped make dark matter a cosmic issue by showing that galaxies rotate too fast for the gravity of their luminous components to keep them together.

But Dr. Rubin, who likes to stick to the facts, refused to be excited. “I don’t know if we have dark matter or have to nudge Newton’s Laws or what.

“I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?”

Now while we can certainly try to sell this to the general public, at some point, we also must face the question on whether such money should be spent simply for a bunch of people to have some "joy" in continuing search to understand our world. Should public money be spent solely on projects that bring a sense of joy and accomplishment to a group of people?

While the author of that article did mention all the side benefits that we have acquired from basic physics research, he neglected to mention that physics isn't just the LHC, but it is also iPods! While those who work in high energy physics, astrophysics, etc. will have to go with the "basic knowledge" angle, let's not forget that other parts of physics such as condensed matter, atomic/molecular, medical physics, etc. are producing results that have DIRECT IMPACT and applications to the public. The pursuit of knowledge in these fields also brings joy and utmost satisfaction, with the added benefit that money spent in these areas can be more easily justified via their applications.

Physics must trumpet both the "fundamental knowledge" research represented by the LHC, and the direct/applied fields. Both of these aspects of physics show that money being spent in this field not only expand our fundamental understanding of our universe, but also our everyday lives. I don't know of any other field of study that can say that as strongly.



Michael said...

Yes - you're right. This is a rather good article. It is a pleasant surprise after a string of slightly negative comments from Overbye about the LHC. Maybe the new year will bring even better science reporting...

ms said...

Well said. I do hope, though, that the so-called applied branches of physics don't become too married to immediate technological application. That takes time, and there's a lot of learning and (unforeseen) discoveries to be made.

If anyone hasn't seen it, I highly recommend Sean's post, "The world is not magic", which is along the lines of the Overbye article linked above.

NiteSkyGirl Blog said...

That was REALLY nice to read, same for searching out in space !!

garima said...

well.......there is certainly a different kind of joy in studying physics ,the feeling itself is so special , but to ensure that more people start liking the subject its important that all school science students be introduced to the physics that exists today . apart from focusing only on the 19th century and physics much before that .... more and more people will begin valuing this subject if we are brought closer to what it originally exists as in 2010......then if the group of people supporting it will become larger then we wont be guilty about spending the public money on something that certainly deserves it.........