Monday, November 7, 2016

How Would A Lull In Collider Physics Impact Theoretical Physicists?

The author of the blog 4gravitons in my sidebar is a theoretical physicists whose subfield figures out more efficient ways to do quantum physics calculations, which are particularly a barrier to progress in quantum chromodynamics (QCD) and quantum gravity, although the issues he and his colleagues explore are remote from these applications and often study calculations in simplified or more general versions of the equations in question than the ones that are actually a part of the Standard Model.

The time has come for a new collider that would provide power to probe energies greater than those found at the Large Hadron Collider that is the current global state of the art, and both China and Europe are investigating potential successors. But, that is an immensely expense venture. Between construction cost an $1 billion a year of operating costs, the planned LHC run will cost $13-$14 billion, and any more powerful future collider would cost more.

Given the lack of any strong indications of new physics beyond the discovery of the Higgs boson and confirmation that it is quite close to the Standard Model Higgs boson at the LHC, it is quiet plausible (and maybe even a good idea from a policy perspective) to put the next collider on hold for a while.

If that happens, however, it not only puts thousands of collider physicists out of work, it also impacts the job prospects of theoretical physicists, and that is what the author of 4gravitons ponders in a recent post. Interestingly, he suggests that out of work collider physicists may have more good substitute forms of employment for their lost jobs than folks in his subfield do.

I am more of an optimists but don't disagree that theoretical physicists need to immediately begin rethinking their funding sources if they are to weather this possible transition well.

In the short run, I am inclined to think that election results will matter more than decisions on new colliders in China or Europe since the major political parties in the United States have different attitudes towards federal funding of science.

There doesn't seem to be any serious effort in the U.S. to build a new collider in the U.S., something that hasn't been seriously considered since the Superconducting Super Collider project to be located in Texas was cancelled in 1993. The Tevatron collider in Illinois was once one of the leading colliders in the world but went off line in 2011. So, for the last five years, domestic collider work has been pretty much limited to lower energy experiments like Jefferson Labs in Virginia (which is, for example, home to the GlueX experiment), and rehashing old Tevatron data resulting in a variety of post-script papers over the past few years.

No comments: