Why particle physics matters
||Particle physics has revolutionized the way we look at the universe. Along the way, it's made significant impacts on other fields of science, improved daily life for people around the world and trained a new generation of scientists and computing professionals. Image: Sandbox Studio
As the lights came on and the camera started to roll, Heidi Schellman took a deep breath, collected her thoughts and began: "Hello, I'm Heidi Schellman and I'm a high-energy physicist working at Northwestern University. What effect does my research have on you?"
Particle physics research has brought about revolutions in our understanding of the world around us, she explained. But scientific exploration is more than just its own reward.
"When physicists start to measure new things, there is no catalog to order the equipment from. We make it ourselves," she said.
"An analogy might be an expedition climbing Mount Everest. Is someone climbing Everest useful to you in everyday life? Not at first glance, no matter how interesting it is for its own sake. But fleece jackets and breathable waterproof fabrics were first developed for serious mountaineering expeditions and are now cheap and indispensable.
"That's what's great about humankind. We like a challenge … and the new tools we build for it have long-lasting value."
Schellman's explanation, recorded as part of the "Why particle physics matters" video project at the 2013 Snowmass Community Summer Study meeting in Minneapolis, expressed a few of the many reasons that particle physics is important.
The benefits of the field span everything from advancing humankind's understanding of the universe around us, to applications in other fields of science as well as daily life, to training the next generation of scientists.
In so many ways, particle physics' impacts go far beyond the laboratory and the textbook.