[T]his month’s issue of Scientific American has a special titled “The Future of Physics”. I was quickly disappointed when I realized that the article covers only “terascale” physics, primarily focusing on LHC.
I guess I am tired of arrogant statements like “physics” = “high energy physics”, which is how a lot of popular media characterizes it. The irony, however, is that with ILC construction in serious peril, and with LHC not even operational yet (unclear what, if anything, they will find) – the REAL “future of physics” is arguably with biophysics, condensed matter or “materials” physics and AMO. I would expect that large particle collider experiments being phased out, with more useful data coming from cosmology (=astronomy).
Now, this is partly just a matter of the constraints of headline writing– “The Future of High Energy Physics” is not as eye-catching– but it’s also part of a pernicious pattern in reporting on physics. There have been no end of stories in recent years about the “Crisis in US physics” because of the gradual shutting down of large-scale high-energy physics experiments in this country.
While this is unquestionably a crisis for the high-energy physics community in the US, physics as a whole is not in such a dire situation. To be sure, the recent budget debacle has affected funding for low-energy projects as well, but there is a huge and thriving physics community that has nothing to do with particle physics. The largest of the divisions of the American Physical Society by far is Condensed Matter Physics (5,592 to the 3,470 of Particles and Fields– even if you lump in the “Physics of Beams” division, the Condensed Matter people still outnumber the accelerator jockey 5,592 to 4,680). The biggest meeting of the year is the March Meeting, which includes:
Divisions: Condensed Matter Physics, Materials Physics, Polymer Physics, Chemical Physics, Biological Physics, Fluid Dynamics, Laser Science, Computational Physics and Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics;
Topical Groups: Instrument and Measurement Science, Magnetism and Its Applications, Statistical and Nonlinear Physics, Quantum Information
Forums: Industrial and Applied Physics, Physics and Society, History of Physics, International Physics, and Education and Physics; Graduate Student Affairs
The scientific program for the meeting is four and a half days packed with talks and posters, many of them fascinating, and not a single one of them involves the LHC or the ILC.
Physics is a whole lot bigger than high energy physics, and it would be nice if that fact got a little more recognition.