Beyond the God Particle

There’s a new popular book about high energy physics coming out this week, Beyond the God Particle, by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill. The authors are unapologetic about the “God Particle” terminology, coined by Lederman back in 1993 for marketing purposes, which for better or worse is now a fixture in popular accounts of the Higgs.

The new book isn’t really a general introduction to the subject, but is focused on two pretty much unrelated subjects. The first is the actual physics of the Higgs field, with a long and detailed explanation of chirality and the way in which interaction with the Higgs field provides particle mass terms. This is great material for anyone who has been subjected to endless attempts at explaining this as the Higgs being like molasses, or a room full of people, or any number of other metaphors that don’t really explain anything. Lederman and Hill go way beyond this, with a much more extensive and serious discussion, while still staying away from using equations. For someone who wants to understand as much as possible about what “particles get mass from the Higgs” means without looking at a Yukawa term in a Lagrangian, this is the place.

The second main topic of the book is Project X, Fermilab’s proposed new high-intensity proton linac that would provide beams suitable for studying rare decays, neutrino physics, potential muon storage rings, and new sorts of fission reactors for nuclear power. This is pretty much the centerpiece of plans to try and keep US in the game of cutting edge experimental HEP physics. As far as the energy frontier goes, the situation at the LHC is explained, with the argument made that on that front, all there is to do now is to wait and see, with 2017 the date by which the authors expect to have a verdict about whether there is new physics to study at the TeV scale. Only once this is in do they see an informed decision about a new high energy machine to be possible. As far as the last 30 years of theorist’s claims about BSM physics, they’re dismissed with:

Our fellow citizens often get confused about what big science is trying to do, perhaps because of what we tell them, usually in the media. For example, all too often we hear that colliders are built “to discover extra dimensions,” to “confirm string theory,” “to discover supersymmetry.” False! Colliders are built to uncover whatever is happening in nature at the shortest distances, and not to accommodate the agendas of various sects of theorists.

Throughout the book there’s a vigorous argument that science in general and HEP in particular deserve far more financial support from the public than it is getting. On the whole I’m in agreement, but I do think the authors go over the top at a couple points. The short discussion of cosmology is HEP-triumphalist:

The great discoveries, such as the “gauge principle” shared by all forces in nature, allowed us to speculate about “grand unification” and led to the idea of “cosmic inflation” and canonized the field of cosmology. Suddenly cosmology became respectable. The leading cosmologists are all particle physicists.

The argument for the societal value of scientific research dismisses economists as “eggheads” too dense to realize that there’s a simple answer to the question “What makes economies grow”:

The answer is almost obvious, yet it took more than 200 years from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations to figure it out. The answer is (drumroll): economies grow because of investment in science! Basic science, applied science, all science. All scientific research pays a handsome dividend, and the more science the better.

Given the current dysfunctional US government, funding valuable new tools like Project X will be a challenge. Lederman will be at the front of the charge to make this happen, and this book is one weapon for the fight ahead.

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42 Responses to Beyond the God Particle

  1. Z says:

    It can’t be a coincidence the timing of this book is the same week as the physics Nobel announcement. Do Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill know something we don’t?

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks. Fixed.

    I doubt it. But who knows, maybe the publisher’s marketing people chose the release date to coincide with the announcement, just in case…

  3. uair01 says:

    The answer is (drumroll): economies grow because of investment in science!

    I totally agree, but just one question (and I’m serious, not trolling):
    Is HEP not too far removed from anything earthbound to ever be of practical use?

    I know the examples of theoretical mathematics suddenly becoming practical (cryptography). I realize that building HEP “playthings” will produce a lot of spin-off in (computer) engineering. I would agree that just searching for “big answers” is valuable on its own. But do you really expect that we will ever use the results of HEP research in something practical? (Like using abstract physics for quantum computing?) If so, what would be the first HEP result to produce some results that could be used business-wise?

  4. Peter Woit says:

    The main problem with finding direct applications of possible new HEP physics discoveries is that they typically involve particles with very short lifetime. It’s hard to imagine what useful you could do with a Higgs particle (even if you could easily produce lots of them) given their lifetime of 10^-22 seconds or whatever. But, if a new stable particle was ever discovered (for instance, conjectured dark matter), then one might very well find practical uses of such a new form of matter.

    Neutrinos are stable, and maybe one can imagine discovering something new about them which would make them more useful. Already, here’s an idea

  5. K says:

    Project X is in danger since some time.
    The US budget is not the only problem. The director at Fermilab
    has recently changed and the new one hates Project X, so….

  6. Peter Woit says:

    If the FNAL director hates Project X, what do you suppose his vision for the future of FNAL is?

  7. Mathematician says:

    I only buy books with the word “God” in the title if they are written by Richard Dawkins.

  8. srp says:

    Leon Lederman is a great salesman and I start out with an emotional bias in favor of investment in HEP. But you do have to worry that at some point you’re doing the equivalent of building giant stone statues on Easter Island. Given the small size of the HEP budget relative to the economy, that conclusion seems far away to me. The fact that very intelligent people want to work on these projects and are willing to put up with low salaries and job security to do it also suggests that the social cost is low relative to the benefit. But sometimes the enthusiasts’ arguments prove too much, as Lederman seems to in the quotation provided in this post.

    It does baffle me why there is no community push for real money and manpower to be spent on investigating advanced accelerator concepts, a policy which would make sense on the scientific, technical, economic, and marketing levels. It’s like asking for money to build history’s largest Yankee Clipper instead of experimenting with steamship technology. Harder to sell, more expensive, and less likely to be productive in the end.

  9. Peter Shor says:

    @srp: The LHC has just started, and isn’t even at its full strength yet. It seems to me that there’s lots of time to wait before starting to spend real money on the next collider (either in terms of advancing collider technology, or making detailed plans for one we know how to build).

  10. Tim May says:

    OK, to fund XHEP (the extreme HEP beyond the LHC, costing perhaps 10-50 times more, etc.) or to not fund it.

    But as someone who worked for Intel in the 70s and 80s, and now invests in high tech, the connections between HEP and electronics/computers/etc. were pretty much gaseous even in the late 50s.

    The energy scales tell the story. Electronics is happening at non-nucleonic energies.

    The Bevatron in the 50s was already outside these scales, by a wide margin.

    Detectors? Computers? Networks? The WWW itself? Second order effects.

    I think the stuff on this blog is fascinating. I think cosmology, fire walls, etc. is really great stuff, to talk about and think about. Maybe in some distant century we’ll be able to to test these theories. Maybe even some telescopes (a lot less expensive than a 500 TeV machine) may turn up something interesting. But arguing that a new accelerator should be built to smash things together at 100-500 TeV, costing the GDP of a European country or two, and saying it may help with economic growth is just not well-supported.

    –Tim May

  11. jd says:

    Some decades ago a Nobel prize winner in HEP theory talked individually with several of us and recommended that we not pursue a career in HEP theory. Instead he strongly encouraged us to engage in finding new directions other than just building the next large accelerator. He felt that the current course was not sustainable. I agree, although I did not anticipate that there would be three or so larger and larger machines. I did not follow his advice as I was not interested in HEP at all. Just as I do not believe in unlimited population growth, this brute force approach to HEP experiments makes little sense to me.

    I have noticed on these HEP blogs that little attention is paid to the wish lists of other areas of science and to the large dollar amounts involved.

    NIF 7.5B to date, 300-400M/yr continuing
    ITER 20B for construction
    DEMO and K-DEMO similar to ITER

    LIFE and HiPER similar to NIF
    Nuclear physics facilities – the field is struggling
    Uranium facility at Oak Ridge – I think 6B
    Fission reactor research
    Big telescopes
    Light sources

    This list can probably be added to. I am sure each area has arguments for support.

  12. M. Wang says:

    I’m sorry, but very very few people in the real economy would agree that science is a main driver of economic development, much less the main driver.

    Different schools of thoughts may have different opinions on what the answers should be to the question: what makes economy grow, but there are three factors that will appear with the greatest frequency: engineering technology, infrastructure and division of labor. The science behind building an iPhone had been understood for decades, but the technology still took the genius of Steve Jobs to get right. Better roads and better telecom cost trillions of dollars but create values many times that by increasing the participation of people, land and resources in the economic network.

    So, infrastructure allows full utilization of resources everywhere, and superior tools resulting from superior technology improves productivity. The final driver of economic progress is greater division of labor, which allows greater specialization that in turn leads to higher quality and greater creativity. This requires the right legal and social environments as well as efficiency of scale.

    As for pure science, take HEP for example, the economic return is minuscule. Once the research frontier gets past stable and semi-stable particles (like muons), no technology can be built out of it. Its only connection with the real economy is now in form of stories being told. This is the fundamental reason why string theorists can get away with their ever shifting stories. Can you imagine iPhone depending on field theory or beyond?

    To say science is what makes economy grows is an ultimate conceit of an egghead. It does not help the cause of science; in fact, it shows the public how detached from real lives these eggheads are. In a sophisticated modern economy, there is plenty of room to justify spending on science as the pursuit of truth just like arts as the pursuit of beauty. To make grandiose but ultimately unfounded claims is counterproductive.

  13. Yatima says:

    I can only agree with M. Wang. HEP at least should be considered a peculiar form of art, coupled to “industrial policy” (i.e. subsidies and political bling), which may have some trickle-down benefits to systems engineering. Still better than the rabid destruction of value that a project like the F-35 is, but let’s not go there.

  14. srp says:

    @Peter Shor: The point of AAC is to explore for much cheaper ways to get to higher energies. The amounts needed to do technology exploration would not be on the scale of building an actual accelerator, and if the work panned out then there would be the option to get way more bang for the buck. Of course, you might find out that none of these advanced concepts are feasible.

  15. Jens says:

    M. Wang,

    It can be argued that the World Wide Web is a spin off from HEP, as it was originally created to allow HEP scientists share data more easily. This sort indirect economic return may be what Lederman has in mind.

  16. piscator says:

    >>Can you imagine iPhone depending on field theory or beyond?

    Yes. GR is a field theory, and if you can imagine an iPhone using GPS then you can imagine an iPhone using field theory.

    In any case, HEP as an international and collaborative enterprise is not expensive on the scale of government expenditure. Compared to budgets like health, defence or social security it is a rounding error. HEP is a few per cent of the science budget, which in turn is a very small fraction of the overall budget.

  17. Mr. Wang:

    “Different schools of thoughts may have different opinions on what the answers should be to the question: what makes economy grow, but there are three factors that will appear with the greatest frequency: engineering technology, infrastructure and division of labor. The science behind building an iPhone had been understood for decades, but the technology still took the genius of Steve Jobs to get right. ”

    This does not refute Peter Woit’s argument that basic science drives the economy. All it does is say that it takes a long time to realize the payoff.

    Also, of course, it is by no means predictable WHAT basic science research will end up paying off economically.

    This is a situation where if one does what is fun or interesting or satisfies one’s curiosity, one’s descendents receive a fabulous economic reward, whereas if one tries to identify targets for purely economic investments with short-term returns, for example by publicly funding only engineering research, one impoverishes the grandchildren by comparison.

  18. imho says:

    Hi M Wang. I understand what you think you are saying, but it seems to me you really have no idea what you’re talking about. Of course the iPhone depends on field theory. Condensed Matter Physics is full of Quantum Field Theory and has been directly responsible for almost the entirety of electronics. Every optical device ever constructed requires a Classical Field Theory tour-de-force. Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, etc, etc depend completely and utterly on Science. Go to any large company and research the background of the “Engineers” who build all of these products, check out the R&D departments. You will find Physicists, Mathematicians, Chemists, Biologists. To even think that science is not (at first order) directly responsible for the majority of today’s economy is laughable.

    I think perhaps you meant a small minority of Physicists – who constitute a minority of a minority of scientists – engage in research that isn’t directly related to economics. But even that’s arguable since Wall Street hires HEP theorists like Wal-mart hires cashiers.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Re: “Peter Woit’s argument that basic science drives the economy”
    I should make it clear that this isn’t my argument, it’s that of Lederman/Hill. Their form of it I described as “over the top”, since I think they are over-simplifying a complex issue. I don’t believe that all science, at all times, funded in any amount, necessarily pays dividends. This oversimplification is a rather convenient one for scientists to believe in, since it allow one to evade what can be a difficult issue. In the case of experimental HEP research, I do think the amounts spent on it can easily be justified, but you have to work harder than just saying that it’s science, and more funding for science is always justified.

  20. lun says:

    M. Wang wrote:
    “Different schools of thoughts may have different opinions on what the answers should be to the question: what makes economy grow, but there are three factors that will appear with the greatest frequency: engineering technology, infrastructure and division of labor. The science behind building an iPhone had been understood for decades, but the technology still took the genius of Steve Jobs to get right. ”

    Let me correct on you this: It took the marketing, business ability and luck of Steve Jobs to make the iPhone the worldwide brand it is. The technology for mobile communication was finessed by many many engineers of many companies, but was ultimately developed, on the software side, by people like Dennis Ritchie of the basic science institution of Berkeley (who died 2 weeks after Jobs and was completely ignored by the US press, despite his contribution to computing being MONUMENTALLY higher than Jobs’s), and on the hardware side by big lab (NASA, Bell labs etc.) engineers. A lot of them working on fundamental science related projects, like accelerators and space exploration.
    Of course, unlike Steve Jobs, such projects are in practice “open source”, anyone can take advantage of their results. So you do not see the profit in the economists balance sheets: the profit gets distributed and multiplied across all society, including Apple or whoever is built the Linux-box which I am using to type these lines. Google might be a better example… except it was started by people doing “basic science” (Computer scientists at Stanford),and, despite all its questionable
    corporate practices, does retain a lot of basic science’s ethos (it produces a lot of open-source software and runs a basic science program, admittedly not in particle physics).

    I hope Peter forgives my cheesed-off tone here. Whenever the US press uses “Genius” and “Einstein” in the same sentence as Jobs and Zuckerberg, I literally want to puke. And to bring this on-topic, the problems described in Peter’s blogpost are exactly due to this: If the latest corporate wheeler-dealer is the “genius” but the paradigm-shifting researcher is the irrelevant burden on the economy, of course science will wither. As a scientist, I have my own experimental prediction of how the economy will follow after that.

  21. Thomas Larsson says:

    The quark model is celebrating 50 this year or next. It is a spectacular scientific success, but has it had any technological application whatsoever?

  22. Why not small g? god particle is much better and less offensive to some

  23. M. Wang says:

    I appreciate your replies to my first comment. Let me clarify a few issues.

    When most people talk about “driving the economy”, they mean certain and quick causality relationship that a policy can be built on. The first problem with science trying to take credit here is that it is highly uncertain and always several steps removed from actual applications. Of course, everything that goes into an iPhone was once a top of cutting-edge science, but to make it to the real application takes decades of efforts from many groups of engineers and designers. Only the last group get to bask in glory. You may call this unfair, as all engineering begins with science. To that, Keynes once said, “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” Likewise, in the beginning we weren’t born yet.

    The second problem is that good science is almost always open source, and therefore what the economists call a public good. It is well known that public goods always get shortchanged.

    Let me take a step back and remind everyone that economics is amoral. Contribution to economic growth is not necessarily good for mankind. Take HEP theory for example, by far the greatest contribution to GDP coming out of the field in recent decades has to be the series of fictions parading as popular science books written by Brian Greene, but this is hardly a good thing, particularly since science is supposed to be the pursuit of truth and must stake its claim of worth as such in the long run.

    As for JohnB’s idea of invading economics, I am all for it. The current bunch of leading economists are mostly free-market fundamentalists that pushed the US government to pursue unchecked growth in finance, directly leading to the Great Recession of 2008 that cost the world tens of trillions of dollars. The others like Paul Krugman think every problem can be solved by printing more money, even after the FED has already done so to the tune of $4t in 5 years. With competitions like these, people who can at least follow basic logic and common sense will be welcome replacements.

  24. Z says:

    Thomas Larsson: it depends on what you define as “practical”, on what timescale, and how many connections to get to “practicality”.

    For example, the air show detectors that detect UHECRs certainly use the quark model in their analysis of decay products to accurately reconstruct events and estimate cosmic ray fluxes at various energies. Now, UHECRs, and indeed the galactic cosmic ray flux is the basis for carbon 14 dating, calibrated to proxies such as tree rings. Ergo, the quark model helps us date things more accurately (or detect close by supernovae, including those in the past). Is that practical enough?

    However, the idea that science should or does have economic benefits is unsettling to me. Economics is a social construct and description of reality, and not really fundamental to happiness, strength or longevity of an intelligent species. One could define the economics of science differently in term of “human capital and knowledge”, since it’s an entirely arbitrary construction.

  25. martibal says:

    Sorry it is s bit out of topic but this is fascinating and – I hope – deserve one more message (and it provides one more argument than “GR for GPS” to explain that yes, fundamental physics is useful): how are UHECR used to calibrate C14 dating ?

  26. Z says:

    Not UHECRs specifically but most of the cosmic ray flux high in the atmosphere is protons or neutrons above 1 GeV, with about an order of magnitude lower number of mesons. Measuring the flux (via ballons, satellites and surface-based detectors) is important in estimating the formation rate of Carbon 14: 14N + neutron -> 14C + 1H that then feeds in dendrochronologic or historical calibration for dating. The cosmic ray detectors in their construction and data analysis, especially the higher energy ones, all have assume the standard model of particle physics via GEANT4 etc.

    Incidentally, Tritium with a half life of ~12 years is also formed via cosmic rays like 14C, and can be used to date watery substances like wine.

  27. Chris W. says:

    Consider a paraphrase—or generalization—of the famous remark by Keynes [emphasis added]:

    The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

    The trouble is, so many ideas are bad, and still have influence. At its best, science counteracts that. At its worst, it contributes to the problem. Sloppy declarations like “the more science the better” don’t help.

  28. Thomas Larsson says:

    Z, I would define practicality like Faraday – I don’t know what it is good for, but I’m sure that you will find a way to tax it. I don’t see that your quite contrived example is generating much tax revenue.

    Tim May gets it exactly right when he emphasizes the energy scales. EM and QM may be esoteric, but they are esoteric on terrestial scales, and therefore have terrestial applications. Quarks are relevant at much higher energies, and hence have few, or any, applications on earth. The energy frontier today is of course even much further way from terrestial conditions.

  29. martibal says:

    Z thanks for the explanation ! By knowledge of C14 dating was that of the exercises of second year at university.

  30. jd says:

    Z has connected the standard model and quark model to radiocarbon dating, as examples of the practicality of HEP. Wikipedia has a long entry on radiocarbon dating and a number of references. Just google on “radiocarbon dating”. I only skimmed some of this material (there is a lot and I am lazy). The question is how many times do the words “quark model” and “standard model” (the HEP standard model) appear in this material?

  31. Christopher Hill says:

    Thanks for the review and the commentary. Our book is released today
    and is being shipped at amazon.

    On the economic front I must refer you to Warsh’s book: “Knowledge
    and the Wealth of Nations.” It’s pretty emphatic: science and technology drive economic growth. Solow’s model could calibrate the post-War boom and it was driven (80%) by science, mainly the impact of the quantum theory– and that still holds today (we imply no insult to those economic “eggheads” and we express our gratitude to them for figuring it out, e.g., to be able to give a quantitative measure such as “80%”). We don’t like to oversell the world-wide-web but it did come straight out of HEP, straight out of CERN at the same time the SSC was cancelled in the US. It required the paradigm of HEP to develop it. It is probably worth $10 Trillion, globally, per year.

    Look, you either go into the lab to develop a product (Edison) or you go there to discover laws of nature (Fermi, Einstein). The latter approach produces greater and more lasting effects, but all science driven economy happens through spin-offs . HEP’s impact is no different–via spin-offs that wouldn’t happen any other way. Look at Roentgen, who was merely exploring the “rays” coming from gas discharge tubes, accidentally discovering X-rays. Within weeks he had turned this into the leading medical imaging technology….but that was a “spin-off” of the pure intellectual pursuit of knowledge. It’s always a spin-off when it’s driven by pure science.

    We’re on the cusp of some pretty big spin-offs from HEP. SCRF’s (Superconducting RF cavities) may be the next big thing (DOE has spent over $600 million to develop them for electron linear colliders, but they promise a wide range of applications in the general economy, from cleaning smoke flues, to producing Tc-99 at hospitals for med imaging, etc. etc.). Furthermore, Accelerator Driven (sub-critical) Reactors, that are much safer than conventional nukes, can burn thorium (the world has over 100,000 years worth of thorium, vs 100 years of U235, and it produces only short-lived waste, no plutonium, no weapons grade materials etc.). These would be amongst the spin-offs of Project X. The development of Fermilab’s Tevatron magnets led to the nickel-niobium wire that made MRI machines possible. I’ve always thought we should have superconducting power “highways,” and the necessary tech is on the shelves at Fermilab ready to go, but it would require government initiatives to make it happen.

    But yes, Project X is in some trouble. Our new Director of Fermilab, Nigel Lockyer, has to grapple with budget constraints that may simply be unmanageable if we try to move forward on Project X. As we tried to emphasize in our book, austerity can often be a bad policy. It’s an easy sell to the folks back in one’s Congressional district, but by cutting basic science budgets you deny economic growth to future generations. We are seeing that in the USA, and it looks like it will only get worse.

  32. Rez says:

    I hate the nickname “god particle”.

  33. Thomas Larsson says:

    Christoffer Hill, you don’t seem to have noticed the point about energy scales. QM applied to the eV (solid state, chemistry, optics) or keV (nuclear) scales has many applications, because such states of matter are readily manufactured on earth. The LHC is about the TeV scale, which is only relevant in supernovae or the Big Bang. That will never have applications on earth.

    The www is a wonderful invention, even if I am not convinced that it will survive myself due to resource depletion. It could not have come into being without military research creating the Arpanet turned internet. So we should increase military funding to get more spin-offs…

  34. Peter Woit says:

    Christopher Hill,
    Thanks for writing in with the comment.

    Thomas Larsson,
    You’re the one ignoring Hill’s point emphasizing spinoffs. In the case of future HEP facilities, I think everyone agrees that direct applications of any new physics are very, very much a long shot, but spinoff applications of new technology developed for Project X are quite plausible, with Hill giving specific examples.

  35. tt says:

    Thomas Larson,
    another data point: lightning gets electrons up to 100 MeV

  36. Thomas Larsson says:

    Peter. In my mind, there is a big difference between cases when the science itself has applications, and spin-off effects that don’t really have anything to with the science.

    Some physics examples:

    Röntgen: The *physics* of X-rays has medical applications.

    80% of post-ww2 growth driven by science: Solid-state *physics* is used in electronics.

    Nuclear: For better or worse, nuclear *physics* defeated Japan and gave us CO2-free electric energy.


    HEP created the www (and Tim Berners-Lee is not a physicist).

    Military science created the internet.

    Space science create cool material like kevlar.

    The core mission of these fields are different. HEP should uncover the building blocks of matter, the military should go to war, and space science should explore space. From my perspective, it is a big difference between spin-off effects and the science itself being useful.

  37. srp says:

    Historians of science and technology have long moved beyond the simple model of basic science–>applied science–>useful technology because there are many, many examples where the technology comes first. For example, steam engines, gasoline engines, etc. Just about everything Edison did. Many useful medical discoveries, including vaccination. The science often flows in later, systematizing and greatly enhancing the envelope of what a given technology can do.

    On the flip side, you also have to give credit to basic science for inventions that wouldn’t have even been attempted without a general scientific knowledge that something might be possible, even if the specific breakthrough occurs in more of a trial-and-error mode than science–>solution mode. I think (though I could be wrong) that a lot of work on masers and lasers was like that–inspired in basic terms by quantum physics, but not simply calculable from first principles, with some experts believing it to be impossible.

  38. CFT says:

    There actually has been an increasing awareness in economic circles that advancing technology has been causing many jobs to vanish due to automation technology. While you can say the newer technologies are more ‘efficient’, they also employ fewer people and thus shift the wealth into fewer hands, require fewer highly skilled individuals to operate the increasingly idiot-proofed automation with each passing year, which makes for an ever shrinking work force with which to power the economy. There is also the economic reality that a highly skilled individual in the United States can have their job outsourced to a third world country for a pittance due to the wonders of ever increasing telecommunication technology. I think Lederman and Hill are pretty divorced from reality, and haven’t the slightest idea of how a real world economy works. Hopefully, neither of them will ‘help’ run the economy further into the ground.

  39. Geoff says:

    Here’s an interesting perspective on the growth of the internet which – according to Larry Smarr – was driven in no small part by computational physicists (numerical relativists) trying to gain supercomputer time.

  40. Chris Austin says:


    Is HEP not too far removed from anything earthbound to ever be of practical use?

    A conceivable discovery of experimental HEP that could have major technological implications would be the discovery of baryon number violation, together with some means of catalysing proton decay or baryon-baryon annihilation. The catalysis of proton decay by magnetic monopoles in certain grand unified models was considered by Rubakov and Callan 30 years ago – here’s a recent study. The experimental discovery of such a process could improve the prospects for practical interstellar travel, by making it possible, in principle, for a rocket engine to convert a substantial fraction of the rest mass of ordinary matter to the kinetic energy of light decay products such as charged pions, and to utilize a significant fraction of that kinetic energy for propulsion. The LHC experiments are actively searching for both baryon number violation and magnetic monopoles, see e.g. here and here.

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