How Particle Physics Improves Your Life
Using particle accelerators, chemists were able to see the detailed wet structure of the superabsorbent polymer material used in the diapers for the first time. This allowed them to tweak and improve the formula of superabsorbent polymers until they had the perfect material, one that is used in all modern diapers.
If you buy a Butterball turkey, you have particle accelerators to thank for its freshness. For decades, the food industry has used particle accelerators to produce the tough shrink film in which Butterball turkeys, as well as fruits and vegetables, baked goods, board games and DVDs, are packaged.
More than 2 billion tons of cargo move through ports and waterways each year in the United States. Many ports are now turning to high-energy X-rays generated by particle accelerators to identify contraband and keep ports secure. These X-rays penetrate deeper and give inspectors more detail about the nature of the cargo.
Vital medical technology known as magnetic resonance imaging creates detailed images of the soft tissues of the body. Unlike X-rays, MRIs can distinguish gray matter from white matter in the brain, cancerous tissue from non-cancerous tissue, and muscle from organs, as well as reveal blood flow and signs of stroke. The main aspects of this important technology are derived from research in particle physics.
Many people trained in particle physics go on to jobs in industry, medicine, computing, or other fields where their skills are in high demand. You might find a particle detector expert exploring petroleum or an accelerator scientist working on cancer treatments.
Physicists are improving the safety of artificial heart valves by designing a new material that is bombarded with silver ions from a particle accelerator. The treated surface of the material prevents the body from identifying the valve as an invader and surrounding it with potentially harmful additional tissue.
Intense light for research
Circular particle accelerators bend the trajectories of accelerated electrons, causing the electrons to emit light. This light is a powerful research tool with many applications. Dedicated synchrotron accelerators known as light sources allow scientists to control the intensity and wavelength of light for research that has led to better batteries, greener energy, new high-performance materials, more effective drug treatments and a deeper understanding of nature.
The World Wide Web isn’t the only computing advancement to come out of particle physics. To cope with the computing demands of the LHC experiments, particle physicists have created the world’s largest grid computing system, spanning more than 100 institutions in 36 countries and pushing the boundaries of global networks and distributed computing.
For a quarter of a century, companies around the world have used electron beams from particle accelerators to make furniture resistant to scratches and stains. The surfaces of these treated desks, shelves and tables look like wood but are almost impossible to scratch.