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Read The Report April 28, 2006

Posted by gordonwatts in physics, politics, science.

The night before last I managed to read the EPP 2010 report. It is amazingly well written. Its intended audience seems to be someone with some general science education — definitely not a particle physicists. Start with Chapter 1. The overview, which is before chapter 1, is basically an executive summary. But starting with Chapter 1 they do their best to lay out arguments and reasons why particle physics is interesting.

This sustained real-time interplay of experiment and theory has produced astonishing progress. In the first part of the 20th century, physicists learned that all matter here on earth is built out of subatomic particles known as electrons, protons, and neutrons. In the second half of the century, they discovered that protons and neutrons are composed of more fundamental particles known as quarks, and that the quarks and electrons that constitute everyday matter belong to families that include heavier and much rarer particles. They learned that particles interact through just four forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and two less familiar forces known as the strong force and the weak force. They developed a theoretical framework known as the Standard Model that describes and predicts the behavior of elementary particles with extremely high levels of precision. The development and extraordinarily precise testing of the Standard Model have been among the crowning achievements of 20th-century science.

Yet considerable evidence suggests that the advances of the 20th century, rather than ending the story, have set the stage for a new era of equally exciting progress. Results from both experiment and theory suggest that the next few decades may produce information that could help answer some of the most basic questions scientists can ask: Why do particles have mass? What are the relationships between the forces observed in nature? What accounts for the structure and evolution of the universe, and what is its future?

The text is quite approachable. If you are the least bit curious you should print out the PDF, get a cup of coffee or a beer, and sit outside on a warm day and read the thing. It will probably take you an hour or two, depending on how detailed you want to be; but it will be well worth it. Especially if you then have a HEP friend you can ask questions of (like this blog!).

Reading between the lines of the report it seems the committee really thinks that we are rushing head-long into the neutrino experiments — and there is too much duplication. They really want the community to take a step back, examine the report carefully, and order and prioritize. An example pointed out to me while I was talking with someone was the USA Nova experiment. Its degree of usefulness will depend on a measurement being made by another experiment that is currently running in Japan, T2K. Why not wait for funding Nova until initial results from T2K appear?

I was also struck by the make up of the committee. Bio sketches of all the members appear in an appendix. I think almost 50% of them are not particle physicists! That is fantastic!

Now, we will have to see what the DOE's advisory panel, P5, does with this. And then what DOE, who directly controls the purse strings, does with that. And then what congress does with that. Ack!


1. Andy - April 30, 2006

I’m excited about the report too, as well as the related press and opinion articles I’ve seen in Nature, Science, Scientific American, NY Times, Chicago Tribune, etc. No doubt about it: the American science community has come together and agreed that the ILC is an exciting and essential next step, and that building it in America is the only way to stay strong in physics. Now it’s our job to kindle this flame, by continuing to remain unified as researchers, to make the project technically and economically feasible, and to keep the buzz in blogs, papers, and on TV – because in the end the people get what they want in this country. We have a good idea… now we need to make it into a solid product and sell it to America and the rest of the world.

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