A century is a long time in science, and things move quickly. It wasn’t long ago that we all had particle accelerators in our homes – the cathode ray tubes in our televisions. These have been superseded by LCD, LED and plasma displays, which are founded on our development of quantum technologies.
Perhaps the most prevalent application of particle accelerators today is in hospitals in the form of radiotherapy machines for the treatment of cancer.
In addition, Nuclear physics is the key to more or less all diagnostic imaging such as such X-ray, PET, CT, MRI, NMR, SPECT and other techniques that allow us to look inside the body without resorting to the knife.
If you’ve ever benefitted from one of these, thanks are due to many people, not least the nuclear physics pioneers who just wondered “what is this stuff?” and “what if…?”.
Certainly many aspects of nuclear physics overlaps with high-energy/particle physics, especially in the development of particle accelerators. But it is still worth noting that what started off as an area of study that had no obvious practical application has produced many indispensable necessities that are a part of our lives. This needs to be repeated many times for people who simply do not see the value of basic, fundamental research.