Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting smashed

No, not a New Year's Eve hangover retrospective.  Rather, reflections on the near-term prospects for particle accelerators (what in my youth we called atom smashers).


First came word that the brand-new, scarcely operational Large Hadron Collider would will shut down for maintenance throughout 2012. Then CERN, the trans-European organization that runs the LHC, announced the shutdown will last more than a year and that they'll also be shutting down the rest of their accelerators in 2012.

UPDATE (2/1/2011): CERN has reconsidered. The LHC will continue running in 2012. Yea!

Now comes word that FermiLab plans to turn off the Tevatron later this year.

Finding the Higgs boson (last missing piece of the otherwise very successful Standard Model of particle physics)? Characterizing dark matter? Proving or disproving supersymmetry and maybe finding a shred of evidence for (or against) string theory? Being utterly surprised by things in the subatomic realm we don't even suspect?  Fugetaboutit.

I see much waiting ahead for any of those aspirations toward understanding the basic underpinnings of the universe. How many technological marvels must also wait as a result?

In an era of deficit spending, once again basic science (but hardly anything else) is deemed unworthy.


Erik said...

It's really a tragedy :(. Who knows what we could uncover with breakthroughs in particle physics. New means of energy production, the ability to affect gravity. Physics hasn't had any huge breakthroughs in a long time...

Imagine how easy the particle accelerators would be to build if we just had cheap teleportation. The accelerator could be 1 foot long and straight instead of that ridiculous circle.

Edward M. Lerner said...

I can think of lots of things to do with cheap teleportation :-)

Actually I write about them. Think Puppeteer stepping discs.

- Ed