Friday, April 04, 2014

Physics In Health And Industry

I always try to show people that many of the stuff they now use, came out of the research work that had almost no apparent and immediate practical application. I often use high energy physics as an example, because in many camps, this is the poster child of esoteric physics that has no clear applications. Yet, people forget that the World Wide Web, the medical detector and diagnostics, and many others, came about as direct spin-offs of experiments in high energy physics.

This report of a recent conference on advanced radiation detectors will reinforce this point.

The first afternoon was rounded up by Colin Latimer of the University of Belfast and member of the EPS Executive Committee. He illustrated the varying timescales between invention and mass-application multi-billion-dollar markets, with a number of example technologies including optical fibres (1928), liquid-crystal displays (1936), magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scanners (1945) and lasers (1958), with high-temperature superconductors (1986) and graphene (2004) still waiting to make a major impact. Latimer went on to present results from the recent study commissioned by the EPS from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which has shown the importance of physics to the European economy.
Erik Heijne, a pioneer of silicon and silicon-pixel detectors at CERN, started by discussing innovation in instrumentation through the use of microelectronics technology. Miniaturization to sub-micron silicon technologies allows many functions to be compacted into a small volume. This has led in turn to the integration of sensors and processing electronics in powerful devices, and has opened up new fields of applications (CERN Courier March 2014 p26). In high-energy particle physics, the new experiments at the LHC have been based on sophisticated chips that allow unprecedented event rates of up to 40 MHz. Some of the chips – or at least the underlying ideas – have found applications in materials analysis, medical imaging and other types of industrial equipment. The radiation imaging matrix, for example, based on silicon-pixel and integrated read-out chips, has many applications already.

Without the effort and the need to push the capabilities of these detectors, there would be no reason to innovate, and the pace of advancement in many of these detectors will slow down considerably. The need to make better detectors to do high energy physics experiments DRIVES innovation in these various areas that have a clear and direct spin-offs into practical applications.

This is the part that many, including politicians, seem to not be aware of.



Unknown said...

And then there's this:

And in action:

SFG said...

We just posted a talk discussing these themes: "Tools, Techniques and Technology Connections of Particle Physics" []