A Fearlessly Creative Workforce
From symmetry magazine, December 2008
Theoretical physicist Jorge Lopez was looking forward to working with the world’s largest atom smasher—the Superconducting Super Collider, then under construction in Texas—when Congress pulled the plug on the project in 1993. With the biggest opportunity in his field gone, he decided to give industry a look.
At his first job interview, he found himself explaining his work on string theory—a theory that attempts to unify all the fundamental forces but requires at least 11 dimensions, rather than the four currently observed—to a Shell Oil representative.
To his surprise, this esoteric chat didn’t sabotage the interview.
“I got a job offer that day,” Lopez says. “I guess I impressed them as someone who could address different problems and solve them. I’ve met a lot of people who have similar stories to mine, and some even work on my team.”
Unbeknownst to many, high-energy physics serves as a training pipeline for industries such as medicine, security, and finance that touch everyday lives.
Rather than mourn this migration of physicists, engineers, and computer analysts into the broader society, the field sees it as added value—a way to give back to taxpayers and the community.
“People may be your most important product,” Michael Holland, who reviews science projects for the US Office of Management and Budget, told employees and users at Fermilab in June. “They create an important element of the national innovation system.”