“[S]cience is not a consumption good to be expanded in good times and restricted in bad times. The doing of science as well as the supporting of science is an expression of faith in the future. It would have been possible to have told Newton and Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg that, given the poverty and squalor around them, their research were luxuries which could not be afforded. To have done so would be to destroy the economic c progress that came out of their science and which was the main factor in relieving that poverty and squalor. We seem to be on the verge of saving one percent but sacrificing untold scientific discoveries and their unpredictable economic benefits.” -Leon Lederman
The Universe is a remarkable place, full of wonder on scales large, small, and everywhere in between.
What we learn about those scales isn’t limited by our curiosity; history has proven pretty solidly that so long as there are unexplained phenomena or unanswered questions, people will try and find the best explanations and answers. Even when we have good ones, we’ll always be searching for simpler, more elegant, and more complete solutions.
I’ve talked at length about why I think we should invest in science, but what I don’t often talk about is my first experience with science and scientific research.
Before I became an astrophysicist, before the largest scales and questions in the Universe became my passion, before any of that, I had to learn about “the basics,” which meant getting a solid foundational education in all of physics. And the first hands-on research opportunity that came my way — the first chance I had to work with real data, real equipment, the full, modern theories and real, current research — came at what was then the most powerful particle accelerator in the world: Fermilab.
(Full disclosure: the main injector ring, shown in the foreground, was not completed when I worked there!)
That was back in 1997. Sixteen years later, it’s been surpassed in energy by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and it was shut down a little under two years ago. Since that time, there has been no effort to probe the energy frontier in the United States, and it looks like there’s unlikely to be going forward into the future. Despite hopes for the dream machine that I’d advocate for, there has been very little political or economic initiative to keep cutting-edge particle physics alive in this country.
But particle physics matters! It’s the way we understand, at the smallest, highest-energy, most fundamental level what makes up all the matter and energy of the Universe! And there’s been a wonderful initiative undertaken by Fermilab, SLAC, and the U.S. Department of Energy to bring some of the best reasons — the reasons why particle physics matters — to everyone.
Starting today, you can publicly view the 29 brave particle physicists who’ve stepped up to create a video explaining, in their own (very personal) words, why particle physics matters to them. Some of these have been inspiring to me, and I’m pleased to be able to share them with you, and to highlight some of my favorites.
Go ahead and vote for your favorite and please, enjoy all the videos, and remember why scientists (and physicists in particular) do what we do, and how important it is to not just our development of knowledge, but to the long-term growth and prosperity of our world, and all the people in it.