Friday, December 21, 2007

Big Trouble in Little Particles

The world of particle physics is getting small indeed. The UK budget is caught between Northern Rock and Southern Iraq. On December 11 the UK announced withdrawal from the International Linear Collider. One week later December 18 the US budget was finally released. It ends funding for ILC and US participation in the ITER fusion project. Fermilab is hit particularly hard, having already spent much of its budget for the year. Possibilities include laying off staff and shutting down the lab for a time. There could be very little raison d'etre for Fermilab after the Tevatron shuts down in 2009.

Remember FANTASTIC VOYAGE? Particle physics has discovered how to shrink an entire field of science! Soon physicists will be reduced to the size of electrons, and we will only perceive them only as anonymous commenters. They will forever whirl around in a wave function, muttering that the speed of light is constant and "GM=tc^3" is too simple to be right.

The 30-year decline has been documented in Smolin's THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS and Woit's NOT EVEN WRONG. Almost no one in the mainstream press has taken notice. Perhaps the New York Times, which usually follows physics, will write about this. Most of the taxpaying public quit caring about particle physics long ago. The decline has been happening a long time, so long that physicists have sought jobs in fields like cosmology. Key members of the Supernova Cosmology Project have no training in astronomy, which may explain their strange conclusions.

Before they all cry into their milk, we should remember that working in science is a great privilege. Most of the world, no matter how hard they work in farms or factories, will never have the opportunities that these physicists take for granted. Physics enjoyed a free ride after WW2 because of nuclear power. The people's tax dollars have lavishly supported high-energy physics for decades. After all the funding, what has particle physics given back to the public? "Dark energy?"

Quietly, out of the mainstream, some big advances in physics are being made. Predicting the speed of light may be just a first step. The product hc is to a link between the Universe of Relativity and the small-scale world of quantum mechanics. Future observations may lead to new theories of planet formation, explaining Earth's core heat and magnetic field. This may lead indirectly to sources of energy that make nuclear fusion look crude. If all this were known, funding for physics would be no problem at all. Fermilab should think about that.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Kea said...

I must say, I do feel for Tommaso and his pals at present. It seems harsh that these excellent scientists should bear the brunt of public indifference towards theory's Empire. I too look forward to better times, although I'm not holding my breath.

9:10 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Tommaso and others have been very supportive. It is sad that good people must suffer too. All this has meant fewer opportunities for women and young physicists. The tone is meant to be sad not harsh. Congratulations again on the PhD.

11:43 AM  
Blogger nige said...

Thank you very much for writing this cheerful post, Louise! I agree that simplicity is key. The simplest model that predicts everything required is what science requires to be successful. I got a top grade A for a module in marketing at university, but I still don't have a clue how to combat the mainstream hype machine despite this! Somehow, I think that the mainstream has "cried wolf" so much with its hype of all kinds of crazy interpretations, speculations, string theories, multiverses, etc., that they have made it impossible for alternatives with no budget to be taken seriously or even published.

2:19 PM  
Blogger alex kaplan said...

Merry X mas from Universe !

Nice post !

7:52 AM  

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