International committee maps the future of particle physics

Image from the Beacons of Discovery report, by Reidar Hahn.

This week, an international organization released its vision for the future of particle physics around the world. The International Committee for Future Accelerators has posted its report “Beacons of Discovery”.

Beacons of Discovery lays out the basics of what particle physicists know, the questions they ask, and the experimental tools they use to answer them.

The report points out that modern particle physics is more than the hunt for the famous Higgs boson. Today, physicists Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess were awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for a discovery that led to another of today’s biggest questions in particle physics: what is than dark energy? The Nobel committee chose to honor the three men for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Physicists had previously assumed that the force of gravity would slow the expansion of the universe, potentially reversing expansion into contraction. Using exploding stars as markers, the scientists discovered that the expansion was actually getting faster. This has led physicists to speculate that another force is acting against gravity to push galaxies apart.

Modern physicists use three types of experiments in their research on dark energy, the Higgs, and other phenomena: those at the energy, intensity, and cosmic frontiers. As “Beacons of Discovery” explains, at the energy frontier, physicists use machines to collide high-energy particles. The Large Hadron Collider has recently become the focus of physicists at the energy frontier with the shutdown of its predecessor, the Tevatron. At the intensity frontier, physicists are using intense beams of particles to study rare processes, such as the neutrino interactions that recently caused such a stir in the OPERA experiment. At the cosmic frontier, physicists use the cosmos as a laboratory to observe processes, many of which cannot be replicated on Earth. Many searches for evidence of dark matter and dark energy use data from events in space.

Finally, “Beacons of Discovery” explains how the study of particle physics will continue to benefit society, meeting the needs of hospitals, industry, schools and the community.

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