A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

International committee maps future of particle physics

10/04/11

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

This week an international organization made public their vision for the future of particle physics across the globe. The International Committee for Future Accelerators have placed on the web their report, "Beacons of Discovery."

"Beacons of Discovery" lays out the basics of what particle physicists know, what questions they are asking and what experimental tools they are using to answer them.

The report underscores that modern particle physics is more than the hunt for the famous Higgs boson. Today physicists Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for a discovery that led to another of today's biggest questions in particle physics: What is 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 the force of gravity would slow the expansion of the universe, potentially reversing expansion into retraction. Using exploding stars as markers, scientists found that the expansion was actually getting faster. This led physicists to conjecture that another force is working against gravity to push galaxies apart.

Modern physicists use three types of experiments in their searches for 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 particles at high energies. The Large Hadron Collider recently became the main focus of physicists at the energy frontier with the shutdown of its predecessor, the Tevatron. At the intensity frontier, physicists use intense beams of particles to study rare processes, such as the neutrino interactions that recently caused such a stir at the OPERA experiment. At the cosmic frontier, physicists use the cosmos as a laboratory to observe processes, many of which they cannot replicate 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, providing for the needs of those in hospitals, industry, schools and the community.

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