Wednesday, March 06, 2013

High-Energy Physics Is Still a Worthwhile Investment

Not sure if there's a contagious disease going on, or if something is up somewhere, but we now have two different articles written about the worthwhile investment in High Energy Physics, within the span of a couple of days.

Granted, the earlier one was done by an "amateur" for a school newspaper. This latest version appeared in The Atlantic and written by a physicist.

Wilson could have made a case for investments in high-energy physics transferring directly to national security. And in the decades since 1969, they have. Detectors developed in searches for dark matter, believed to make up 23 percent of the content of the universe, could notice a dirty bomb crossing our borders. Beams of particles can scan cargo containers without opening them, or even scan people and their luggage at airports, as is now commonplace all over the world. Beyond security and shrink wrap, we have also seen advances in medicine, computing, and data mining. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, tens of millions of patients receive accelerator-based diagnosis or therapy each year.

In the decades since 1970, high-energy physics has made stunning progress in the archeology of the early moments of the Big Bang. In the same timeframe the fraction of the U.S. gross domestic product dedicated to research in the physical sciences has been cut in half. We are currently in a situation where the next machine, either taking us to higher energy or allowing us to probe this potential Higgs boson in greater detail, might be out of reach of our finances and political will.
It certainly is true that high energy physics gave birth to the field of accelerators. However, as it is now, the field of accelerator physics certainly has been clearly separated from high energy physics. In fact, the overwhelming number of accelerators in this world have nothing to do with high energy physics. Still, the need for cheaper, more efficient future particle colliders at higher energies will continue to drive innovations in accelerator physics that will translate into better accelerators for other applications.


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