Monday, March 14, 2016

In Praise Of APS March Meeting

The APS March Meeting is the LARGEST yearly gathering of physicists in the world. Yet, as Chad Orzel has stated, it is hardly covered by the media.

In this article, Orzel writes why this is so, and why the media and the public should pay more attention to this gathering.

As with lots of things, though, the primary reason for the difference is probably money. Which, in a way, goes back to the irony noted above. Particle physics as a discipline puts a lot more effort into popularization because they have to in order to get funding. Fundamental physics experiments produce some spin-off benefits, but those are second-order effects, difficult to predict and harder to monetize.

Condensed matter research, on the other hand, leads to a more direct payoff, and thus comes with a more secure funding stream. You don’t have to work all that hard to convince wealthy industrialists that it’s worthwhile to spend money on developing new materials that will lead to new and improved commercial products. The funding stream for the field is a little more secure, thanks to the more direct path to applications, and thus there’s less need to make the effort to explain a complicated subject. Which then feeds back into the first two reasons.

This is kind of a shame, because when you dig into it, a lot of what goes on in condensed matter is just as amazing as what you see in particle physics. In fact, a lot of effort goes into creating analogues of exotic systems. And if you look at it the right way, there’s some quantum magic in the most basic aspects of the ways solid objects come together.

Certainly, the sexiness of the topic makes a big difference. But as I've stated many times on here, physics isn't just the LHC and the Big Bang. It is also your iPhone and your MRI. And it is about time the public is more aware of this.


1 comment:

Hamish Johnston said...

Here at we love the APS March Meeting and it is a highlight of our year. Matin Durrani and Tushna Commissariat are at the conference in Baltimore and you can read about their exploits here: