Saturday, April 1, 2023

‘Science now is very social’: Inside the particle physics conference that helped shape 10 years of research

Picture a particle physicist. How do they look when they do their research?

According to Dr. Jonathan Li Feng, professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine, scientists have a certain popular image when they make their discoveries.

“I think a lot of lay people think of the scientific advances that have been made by some of the geniuses sitting at their desks who are having a “eureka” moment,” Fang said in a phone interview with NBC4.

But this idea is not accurate at all.

“Science is very social now, and depends on conversation,” he explained — and those conversations and collaborations take place at conferences like Snowmass, which is being held in Seattle from July 17 to 26 this year.

Particle physics is the study of the fine particles that make up the building blocks of all known matter in the universe. If you’re a particle physicist, you can study quarks, which make up protons and neutrons, or leptons, a type of particle that includes electrons. Those particles, combined together to form the atoms, make up everything else.

Snowmass, also known as the Snowmass Community Planning Exercise, is an academic conference for American particle physicists and some of the international particle physicists who collaborate with them. At the conference, they propose new research topics, areas of study, and potential experiments, with the goal of building the next phase of American particle physics research.

But that detail alone doesn’t capture the scale of the event.

The conference is sponsored and put together by a subset of the American Physical Society—”a non-profit membership organization working to advance the knowledge of physics,” according to its website.

It is a type of professional society for physicists, with “more than 50,000 members, including academics, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and around the world.”

Within the broader APS, the division of particles and fields is what a group of scientists know as particle physics, the field probably best known for creating the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Or, as the DPF states, they focus on “the study of fundamental particles and fields, their structure, their interactions and interactions, the design and development of high-energy accelerators, and the design and development of instrumentation techniques for high-energy physics.” . “

Essentially, if you’re a researcher in the field of particle physics, you’ve probably heard of the Snowmass convention.

“It’s basically an opportunity for the whole community, in this case particle physicists, to come together and take stock of where we are, and use that assessment of American research that already exists,” Fang said. “Make a plan for where to go.”

This plan has been made on a large scale.

The first Snowmass conference was held in 1982 in the town of Snowmass, Colorado – hence the name. Shekhar Chivukula, a professor at UC San Diego, president of the DPF, and one of the organizers of Snowmass, the conference re-occurs every decade.

“After a period of study by subgroups of scientists studying different subfields, we come together across the subfields to work to create a unified vision for the future,” Chivukula said in an email.

According to Dr. Pedro Ochoa-Ricoux, an associate professor at UC Irvine, this is a very collaborative process, and actually begins several years before the conference date.

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“Snowmass is a process,” he said in a phone call, and the conference “is the culmination of the process.”

The process begins with letters of interest sought from particle physicists in the US—a two-page, “short and sweet” explanation of what researchers are interested in, and why they consider it important, Ochoa-Ricoux said. Ricoux said.

Those papers of interest are known as “white papers”, which are reports or guides that present a simplified version of a complex research idea.

Instead of a comprehensive summary in papers of interest, white papers contain a specific problem in physics to be solved, what the problem is, how the authors think it can be addressed, and the pros and cons of that method of research. Cons Ochoa-Ricoux said, the imaginary is better than the other way around.

White papers essentially serve as arguments for a particular experiment or idea that the authors feel should be heeded in convention.

Those papers are then shared with a “frontier” group, or group of researchers from a field of particle physics study, to be reviewed, considered, and selected for the next step.

“The whole snowmass process is divided into 10 boundaries,” said Ochoa-Ricoux, because particle physics as a field of physics is so broad that it needs to be divided.

For example, the energy limit is focused on understanding the mystery of heavy particles, the interactions of new types of particles, and dark matter – despite the fact that it is about 85%, particle physicists still don’t know much about it. Is. of matter in the universe according to Fang.

“We don’t know what it is,” Fang said. “We want to get some clues about this.”

And searching for clues means lots of potential research projects.

Within the boundaries are various topical groups, which further divide the research areas, but the end results of all the subgroups, papers, discussions and reviews, lead to a larger report.

The endgame for Snowmass is a report, Ochoa-Ricoux said, with a section of each of the 10 boundaries made up of pieces from each of the topological groups.

“It’s a bottom-up process,” he said.

It starts with a broad group of physicists and students, and works its way up to the people at the top of the field.

“It’s really a very American thing, a very democratic thing, an idea that everyone should have their say,” Fang said. There is a great emphasis on “making sure that everyone, maybe early career physicists, maybe graduate students” is involved in the process.

Their work ends with a set of reports “detailing the current state of the field and the most exciting experimental and theoretical opportunities for progress,” Chivukula said. And those reports help determine where the limited funding available can be best used to advance the broad field of particle physics.

Snowmass basically sets the menu that US funding agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, select future projects, Fang explained.

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“We’ve got a bunch of big projects,” Fang said.

Big ones that take more people, equipment, time and money are entrees, smaller projects are desserts and weird-but-interesting ideas are appetizers—but you won’t be able to eat everything or pay for it. in the expression list.

“Then one basically has to choose from the menu,” Fang said. “What exactly are we going to order?”

The Snowmass report is known as P5 – the Particle Physics Project Priority Panel – which prioritizes the ideas that all conference participants, frontline researchers and white paper authors have set out, and “what really needs to be built”. Maybe, makes a plan for it. In the next five, 10, 15 years,” Fang said.

That recommendation is sent to the DOE and NSF, which actually implement the suggestions in the form of grants and budget proposals to the US government.

After the whole process is complete, particle physicists know which direction the field is headed for the next 10 years—until the next snowmass conference takes place.

“These reports will be used by agencies to make budget proposals to Congress over the coming decade,” Chivukula said. “This joint effort by the particle physics community in coordination with government agencies has been extremely effective in creating and maintaining state-of-the-art particle physics programs in the US.”

But beyond money, the conference helps direct particle physics as a field by bringing together scientists, from fields of study that might not otherwise interact.

“You emerge with a better global view of the region,” Fang said, not just your “sub-specialty.”

Ochoa-Ricoux, for example, is one of the frontier researchers studying the neutrino—”a peculiar elementary particle with no electric charge, with ghostly properties,” that can move through entire planets and from the other side. might come out, he explained.

But he is presiding over a session focusing on that range and accelerator at Snowmass, to see what the two groups can work on together.

“This is a chance for all of us to come together,” he said.

The conference is also a “fantastic resource” for graduate students who are just getting their bearings in the field, said Ochoa-Ricoux, who are trying to understand “who we are, what we are doing and what we are doing.” Why.”

“We’re trying to address some of the most basic questions you can ask.” What is the world made of? How does the world work at its most basic level?” he said. “Not only is it fun and exciting, it’s important.”

And beyond science, it’s an exciting opportunity to meet in person with fellow scientists – even more meaningful than the COVID delay.

“Our initial plan was for the snowmass process to begin in the summer of 2020 and to have a community-wide meeting during the summer of 2021,” Chivukula said. “The COVID pandemic made meeting face-to-face impossible, and especially difficult for members of the community with young children.”

So they stopped work from January 2021 to August 2021, and are finally meeting in person in 2022.

“I’m so excited to be back personally!” Chivukula said.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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