Nightmare on Meyrin Street

’tis gone.
What seemed to hold the promise of a revolution in physics has fizzled out. Disappeared into oblivion. Is there really nothing more than the Higgs for the LHC to discover? Will the experiment just wander in an energy desert for the rest of its life? It is the most feared scenario physicists could have thought of before switching on the machine at CERN: a true nightmare. What now? Someone is probably hoping this nightmare will let us save money on curiosities that only experts care about and are of no public good for the majority. So wrong!

I have friends who work in theoretical particle physics: they are passionate, capable scientists and I’ve always wished the results found at LHC would help them land the permanent position they deserve to keep doing what they’re best at. Now that everyone in the field is back to square one, my friends are among the best positioned to start a new conversation with Nature through the screen of a blackboard: they are still professionally young enough to be as audaciously bold as the situation requires. So far, in fact, the community of theoreticians has mostly played by decade-old rules: no wonder we’re stuck. It is then a great opportunity to make tabula rasa and be daring. I’m confident the revolutionary men and women that’ll get us out of this morass are already born: hopefully they’re already at work and they are collaborating with each other to enjoy the benefits of complementarity.

However, things could turn out bad: the work toward a new description of Nature might take more time than my friends have to secure a job. As numerous as they can be, and even if they may come from your own country, I don’t think the destiny looming on them will move you. However, in such a case, a catastrophe will be pending above us all.

While it may look like CERN hunts for Pokemon-like entities in reality it does much more: it creates the basis for our future wellbeing. The past week, together with the sad announcement of the aborted physics revolution, CERN celebrated the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. It was invented there and you use it to read this piece or the news, to book the flight to go on holidays, to buy shoes and do many more things that are now given for granted in our everyday life.

CERN also has a medical research unit, where particle physics know-how from theory and experiments is put to service for health applications such as treating cancers. Moreover, for its computing needs CERN has been instrumental in the development of Grid computing, which

“… offers a way to solve Grand Challenge problems such as protein folding, financial modeling, earthquake simulation, and climate/weather modeling. Grids offer a way of using the information technology resources optimally inside an organization. They also provide a means for offering information technology as a utility for commercial and noncommercial clients, with those clients paying only for what they use, as with electricity or water.”

There is much more that CERN does for us all but I’m confident the overview I’ve given you can already let you share my concern that if we stop doing research in particle physics we stop creating needs that only this type of research can create, while their satisfaction provides the most fertile conditions for our future wellbeing and prosperity.

Before concluding, it is worth mentioning that the non-discovery of a new particle does not mean CERN should close shop just yet. In fact, knowing that the particle is not there is already a precious piece of information: we could not know beforehand, so disposing of a new piece of (non-)evidence is very useful, though painful.

At the same conference where the sad non-discovery announcement has been made a flood of other new results has been shared with the public by CERN. They still have some twenty years of activity in front of them to let the LHC machine continue its tremendously accurate and reliable work. This persistence is needed to allow new rare phenomena to show up in a significant way. Therefore, we can be “disappointed but not discouraged” as a physicist says at the end of a BBC Horizon documentary that just aired.

Last but not least, a note is in order about the title: Meyrin Street is CERN’s address for the public.

New physics, is that you?

Mysterious hints of long-awaited physics beyond the Standard Model seem to have emerged at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

The collaborations behind ATLAS and CMS, the two general-purpose experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, have just published their latest reports. Their new data show a suspicious bump, similar to the one that gave away the existence of the Higgs boson: a detour in an otherwise smooth trajectory across the energy region explored by means of particle collisions. The reason why the new results could either hold great potential or have physicists endure a longer nerve-wracking wait has to do with how searching for the unknown works.

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN offers one the most favorable views of the Universe. Its behemoth experiments collide particles like bumper cars: in the particle dodgem debris are carefully scrutinized to reveal secrets about the interiors of the clashing entities and new types of particles can materialize into existence by converting the energy made available by the collision. Millions of particles are smashed into each other millions of times per second in order for the little sparse hints of every strike to accumulate into relevant information about the microscopic world.

Artist's rendition of a high-energy collision inside a particle detector (Image: CERN)

Artist’s rendition of a high-energy collision inside a particle detector (Image: CERN)

An everyday life equivalent of this would be tossing millions of coins millions of times and counting how many heads or tails you get. Both heads and tails being equally probable you should find that each occurs roughly 50% of the times. That’s in theory. In practice, if you throw a coin 10 times you can get heads 7 times in a row: how’s that possible?

It could be that your coin is rigged: knowing for sure this is not the case is what scientists call characterizing the experimental setup. Maybe your coin is responding to its surroundings in some unexpected way; before you can claim to have a magic coin you have to make sure you understand your environment and how this might interfere with your experiment. It could also be that, while you think you’re just throwing a standard coin, the one you got is no ordinary coin: it’s a completely new one that behaves in an unconventional way with respect to the others you have thrown in the past. More prosaically, it is possible that you did not conduct your experiment enough times to make any statistically significant claim, as scientists would say. When you toss a standard coin your outcomes will approach the 50-50% separation as you increase the number of tosses.

Counting occurrences and comparing results with expectations also characterized the hunt for the Higgs boson, when ATLAS and CMS were like Columbus’ caravels on their course to the Indies: they had to navigate an energy stretch delimited, though loosely, by previously available maps of the microscopic world; their promised land was the particle associated with the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. We all know how the story went: Columbus found America instead, while the Higgs boson was indeed discovered and the duo Higgs-Englert was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics, absent the late Brout.

Higgs-Englert-Announcement-Day-2

Professor Englert and Professor Higgs speaking at the Higgs seminar announcement at CERN in July 2012 (Image: CERN)

Since then CERN has been making history, though in a peculiar sense. Its LHC works in fact as a time machine, by concentrating energy to values that characterized the Universe only immediately after the Big Bang. Now we can rewind a movie no one has ever watched before and directly witness the story unfold as if it were the first time. We have some expectations about the movie but this time around the situation is trickier than in the Higgs-Columbus days: we have left America. The map we could use until then, the so-called Standard Model, is not adequate anymore.

Every model is a description of Nature that is optimized for a specific set of its features and the Standard Model makes no exception: it is very accurate in its domain but cannot explain 95% of the Universe. These dark sectors are like very dim, unexplored rooms in a castle: to build a detailed map of these rooms we need to probe them, to understand their architecture and the variety of their furniture we need landmarks that inform our bearings.

ATLAS and CMS scientists have just finished analyzing information that seem to suggest a new landmark could exist, what exactly is still up for debate: it could be as familiar as a cousin of the Higgs boson or as novel as a manifestation of extra dimensions. This uncertainty represents science in the making and is very fruitful for researchers because it compels them to go through a checklist that resembles the one about the coin toss: are we dealing with a completely new coin? Or will new tosses wash away the seven-heads-in-a-row occurrence?

Only time and more data will tell if we have finally found new physics beyond the Standard Model: after all we have just started watching the movie about the history of the Universe.

Catching a wave from space

I love taking walks, especially by the Leman Lake. I go there when I feel like stretching my legs and refreshing my brain. I’m there now, in company of swans, ducks and seagulls as they enjoy their life. A few of them are singing, others are flying, others are swimming. As they do so they leave trails behind them, ripples on the lake’s surface that gradually widen in aperture as they depart from their points of origin, the swimming birds. Every now and then a stronger wave reaches the shore where I am: tumultuous, with more pronounced ups and downs, I immediately suspect it coming from something a bit heftier than a swan. It’s a boat, carrying people and momentarily interrupting an otherwise perfect peace.

IMG_7565

The situation I just observed is a poetic version of something right on spot in high end physics research: gravitational waves, the ripples in the cosmic sea of the Universe that are generated by mass and/or energy when in accelerated movement. Waves are ubiquitous in the Universe. They can be produced in a variety of ways, even familiar ones: with a musical instrument, that transfers its vibrations to our ears through air, switching on a lamp, thus provoking electron excitations in the filament, which then relax and release light, with an x-ray machine that sends high energy photons through our bodies.

Talking about relaxation, something that I’d like to do, other than walks, to give vent to the occasional pressure is playing a big drum with mallets. Waves again, yet in the form of sound, originated by the deformations I cause on the drum’s membrane by hitting it with the mallets. Probably less appealing to the ear than swans’ singing as I’m not gifted with musical capacity.

But I’m fond of Einstein and he was a very fine composer of the melodies of the Universe. He conceived one special symphony, a tale of massive bodies bumping into each other in the loneliness of the Universe, clinging to this encounter as the last one in their life and celebrating it with a dance that will bring them closer and closer, until they merge into one.

Listening to these melodies will allow us to reconstruct the furious dance that accompanied the bodies merger and infer a lot about a behavior of the Universe that we’re otherwise blind about. Or rather deaf.

This silence has finally been shattered now, by one of the most sensitive microphones ever built: LIGO, a machine that is capable of detecting a bulk vibration smaller than the size of an atom, should have heard the cosmic melody due to two black hole mallets hitting on the stiff membrane of spacetime.

Up until today we hadn’t been able to listen to any cosmic concert, we had only observed the movement of the percussionists: two very compact stars, approaching each other just as Einstein’s choreography dictates, a Nobel Prize discovery.

The difference between the two perspectives is fundamental … here comes another Nobel Prize! History really has a huge sense of humor, if all this happens a 100 years after Einstein wrote down the score of the symphony.

I’ve recently had the privilege to work on this animation about gravitational waves, together with the gifted Jorge Cham, artist and scientist, and Daniel Whiteson, a physicist who likes to do this type of outreach just as much as I do. There are both a video and a comic of this animation that you can find translated in many languages now. In what follows I would just like to mention a couple of things that didn’t fit in the narrative we adopted.

Visualizations and Sounds

If you’d like to see how you’d be changed by a (humongous) passing gravitational wave, go try this app!
To listen to the sounds corresponding to gravitational waves emitted by different sources, put your headphones on and head over to this website.

Spinoffs 

Supercomputers are crucial in gravitational wave research, for example to simulate black hole collisions. First in the ’60s and then in the ’80s, the need was recognized to develop and put together clusters of very powerful computing machines that would later bring about the first Internet browser and a physical infrastructure which is crucial to forecast weather, for example, or study the feasibility of molecules for medical and industrial purposes.

How can you be part of it?

Citizen science project Einstein@Home lets you contribute “to make the first direct detections of gravitational-wave emission from spinning neutron stars“, by running a useful screensaver on your personal computer. In fact, as we can read in LIGO Magazine #7, “searches for continuous GW signals are computationally limited and require relatively little data for very long processing times. This makes a volunteer computing project a very good match for the problem.

Now go catch your wave from space!

Einstein_At_Home

Update following the announcement of the discovery

Did Einstein@Home play any role in this? No, it didn’t. The signal in the instrument lasted only about 1/4 of a second. It’s not a continuous-wave signal like the type that Einstein@Home has been searching for. But since the observing run ended in mid January, we have been preparing the data to start a new low-frequency all-sky search for continuous gravitational waves. We are now starting to run this on Einstein@Home, so please sign up your computers and disable their sleep mode! In the next months we will extend the frequency range of the continuous waves all-sky searches, target interesting point sources and we are also gearing up to perform broader surveys for binary black hole mergers.

Bruce Allen

Director, Einstein@Home 

The emotions of the first person to imagine LIGO

I feel an enormous sense of relief and some joy, but mostly relief. There’s a monkey that’s been sitting on my shoulder for 40 years, and he’s been nattering in my ear and saying, “Ehhh, how do you know this is really going to work? You’ve gotten a whole bunch of people involved. Suppose it never works right?” And suddenly, he’s jumped off. It’s a huge relief.

Read the rest at the MIT News bulletin.

 

Memories of a colorful life

It was Tuesday, December 4, 2012 and I was having an ice-cream for lunch. The temperature was pretty warm in College Park, a few metro stops from Washington D.C. and I had not yet tasted the famous local ice-cream of the University of Maryland. It was a few days before I would leave the U.S. at the end of my postdoc stint and I wanted to soak in all I could of that place, the last where I would spend time doing research in theoretical physics.

My plane back to Rome was due in a couple of weeks and I had decided to spend that remaining time traveling with a friend. Before that I had one more trip waiting for me: later that afternoon I would visit a very special place, the past. My guide was Oscar Wallace Greenberg, Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland. “Wally”, as he wants to be called, had agreed to time-travel together to let me meet Einstein and other giants of physics who had shaped the last century outside their domain of expertise.

My Virgil had already told me a few anecdotes over lunch once, when he had joined me and other scientists working on gravitational waves, while his fellow particle physicists had gone eating out and he found it more convenient to stay inside. He told us he had been friends with Joe Weber, the first who had tried to build a microphone to listen to gravitational waves, the sounds of the universe caused by massive astrophysical objects, when they hit on the fabric of space and time as mallets on a drum membrane. The two of them used to go on mountain hikes but, out of respect for a friend, Wally would never ask Weber about his controversial research results. I already knew that Weber’s findings had never been replicated by anyone else but listening to a more personal side of the story made me want to know more. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk further with Wally; soon after I realized that the man who used to take the stairs to our department on the fourth floor wasn’t just a walking trove of treasures from the history of physics: he had his own story, too and I wanted to know it.

Ocar_Greenberg

Oscar Wallace “Wally” Greenberg, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland.

I then asked him if he’d let me interview him and he agreed to do it on that extraordinarily warm day of December 2012. Since then I have gone back and forth to the idea of writing about this personal encounter that I cherish a lot. Because life has a funny sense of humor, I have just found out the iPhone screenshot above in this post, which brought me back to that day and the desire to tell you something about Professor Greenberg.

He, too, has been a pioneer of physics in the 20th century: he was the first to see that the subatomic world had to be a colorful place. In much the same way as green, red and blue conjure to give you white when superposed, Greenberg understood that something like it was at work for quarks making up neutrons and protons. Even though elementary particles are not colored in the sense we think, this analogy is common parlance in physics: protons and neutrons are colorless conglomerates of quarks because their constituents combine their green, red and blue color charges in such a way as to neutralize them. That this mechanism was at play in the invisible world  of microscopic particles had dawned on Wally when he was visiting Princeton in the 60’s as an assistant professor, on leave from the University of Maryland. He had already been at Princeton during his formative years as a student, the same Princeton where Einstein worked once he fled Europe due to the persecution against the Jews.

On a Spring afternoon of the early 50’s, together with other students, Wally had the chance to meet Einstein and ask him some questions; surprised by the humbleness of the great scientist and filled with emotion for the encounter, he later wrote a poem to celebrate this life changing experience. It is called “Mercer Street”, from the name of the road where Einstein used to live, and synthesizes the feelings and the physics that shaped that afternoon:

Mercer Street

A Spring afternoon
A line of nine walk though the town
A musty house, the shutters drawn
A sage lives within

His key turned the lock
For twenty years to unify
Electric field, magnetic field
Space-time matter, too

A calm beyond time
A humble man received his guests
To talk, to feel the breath of youth
To hand them the key

The day turned to dusk
The parting time. Advice was sought
For these young men who start the path
He lost long ago

He shrugged. Scratched his head,
Discomforted, at sea, he sent
Them out with “Who am I to say?”
Cool air cleared their heads

Unfortunately the experimental evidence necessary to do justice to Wally’s intuition and prediction took years to come; when it did, he received only a few citations but not the full credit he deserved. In spite of this, the words Wally spoke to me did not contain resentment or accusations: he was just happy about the journey through the physical world that his whole life has been … and still is! When I asked him if he was satisfied with what had been his personal exploration of science through physics he answered proudly:

“Yes but I’m still doing it! What I’m working on right now is muonic hydrogen: if you do very accurate spectroscopy of the hydrogen atom you can infer the charge radius of the proton…” 

As Wally explained to me, the data on muonic hydrogen were very different from the theoretical expectations and he thought he could help clarify the situation because he had experience in a calculation tool that particularly suits the problem. If this sounds technical, it is; suffice it to say that I’ve recently found out that Wally is participating in an international collaboration to deepen the investigation of muonic hydrogen. This attachment to physics as a life mission is something I love to recognize because it resonates with me a lot; seeing it at play in an 80 year old man, to me, is as joyful as witnessing my niece coming to grips with stairs: the pleasure of the novelty and finding things out is never enough.

My conversation with Wally went on for an hour or so. He told me about that time he was waiting for a cab in the blistering cold with a soon-to-be Nobel Prize awardee and they shared a chewing gum to have some sugars in the blood. He told me about that time when, as a student, he fell asleep during a class given by another giant of physics because he was under medications. He told me about that time at lunch when a rising star in theoretical physics started throwing bread crumbs at the table to call for attention. If you want to know more about Wally, you can listen to an account in his very own voice here:

I will end by saying that going through my remembrances for writing this piece made the long wait very worthy. One day, if I live long enough to grow old, I’d like to be asked about the tale of my own journey through physics: that day I will start by telling of the time I sat with Wally.

 

An open mike for Einstein

Yesterday the European Space Agency launched a new satellite: called LISA Pathfinder, its role is to pave the way for the ambitious LISA mission by conducting crucial tests of its technology.

LISA stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna and basically is an open mike for Einstein, who imagined the universe as a very lively Sunday market, where people go by or bump into each other, they salute by a mere gesture or take time to exchange about their condition. Much in the same way as the market conveners can talk softly or loudly, if at all, the universe is filled with tales of stars grazing each other, exploding, fusing into one, falling into black holes or witnessing them merge in an even stronger monster.


The convener of this universal market is not Sunday, it’s gravity: so LISA will listen to the story gravity has to tell. The stories that this exquisitely sophisticated microphone will be sensitive to sound like this symphony.

If listening to it makes you want to shake your body a bit, I invite you over to this other post of mine, where I describe gravity as the dance of space and time.

Nobel petitions and sequestration cuts

On October 23, 2012 a petition was addressed by Nobel Prize awardees and Fields medalists to the representatives of European governments; the object: the rumors that research funds would be cut on occasion of the next meeting to discuss the European budget, at the end of November. A new petition has been written on April 10, 2013: this time around it’s the turn of US Nobel Laureates writing to Congress
.
The sword of Damocles that is threatening the future of scientific research is, at a closer look, an extremely dangerous risk for the future of all citizens, not only scientists. 
The current well-being of most of us Westerners is based on easily identifiable pillars: scientific studies, at first abstract and then applied, that brought us electricity and computers, just to quote a couple of examples. There would not be anything of all that we are used to if some ancestor of ours had not been so curious to think about the why and how of natural phenomena, which sometimes have weird names such as “quantum field theory”. 
The example that I personally like to quote most often, given that I am both an Italian and a physicist, is related to CERN and its accelerator LHC, located underground in the Geneva area. The acronym designating this experiment stands for Large Hadron Collider, which, in plain language, corresponds to a sort of dodgem whose cars are minuscule particles, which belong to the category of hadrons … hadrons as in “hadron-therapy”, a technique of modern medicine that is used to cure deep cancers in a unique way. How else could humanity have discovered the existence and behavior of the subatomic world other than walking down the path that has brought to build the LHC in order to discover and study the Higgs Boson?
 This link is just one example of a connection between fundamental science and well-being that is obscure to most people. It is then apparent how the issue of an accurate positioning of research in funding policies represents, in reality, a much wider problem, which requires a unity of intents that goes far beyond academia and laboratories: it concerns all of us together with our kids.
In such a context the voice that reaches the ears of our political representatives should be a single powerful one that collects many more people than just the scientists. The latter should lead these unitary efforts: in fact, in order to have a weight in society, before politics, lobbying is needed. 
This goal can only be achieved if the general public is involved in the process and engaged in a two-way conversation; how does one go about conquering support from the public? by speaking its own language, studying its interests, meeting it where it is to be found, which most certainly is not at the entry to the Ivory Tower. 
A marketing strategy is needed; that’s right: marketing, as in advertising campaigns; in fact, where else is the success of advertisement if not in its ability to sympathize with the public, to be in its shoes, to touch its emotional cords, one category at a time? 
The time is over, then, to simply rely on press releases in order to reach the public: communication has its own tools, science is the product to be advertised, in a proper way of course. In such a context it is not an heresy to bother mixing scientific content with languages that are either non-scientific or non-verbal even: theatre and dance, for example, or rap music or video-games or comics … 
This list could go on and would cite many efforts that have been proposed either very recenlty or little longer ago. What is still missing, which I personally believe would represent a qualitative leap, is the unity of intents: “united we stand, divided we fall”, as the saying goes. There is a notorious instance that exemplifies what I am advocating for here: the history of Hubble Space Telescope. In 2003 it had been declared doomed by US President George W. Bush and NASA President Sean O’Keefe, in charge at the time: no more maintenance for the telescope, the money that the necessary Shuttle mission would have cost had to be destined to bring astronauts on Mars. The scientific community succeeded in exciting such an emotion in common people that the two lobbied against the official decision, pushing Bush and O’Keefe to change their minds … incredible! But true and repeatable.

In conclusion, putting forth a petition signed by Nobel Prize awardees is very welcome; however, politicians represent interests, so it should be the public who turn to them with a petition and have them co-sign it. In order for the public to be appreciative of science it has to be aware first, which can only be achieved if laymen are engaged in a two-way conversation by scientists. If the lack of awareness and the poor appreciation of science by the public are not confronted vigorously, no petition will ever suffice.

Update
A first version of this post came out on October 24, 2012 at my former blog under the title “Sequetration cuts in Europe?”. Back then sequestration cuts in the US were just a threat, though a very serious one, that could still be avoided. As Europe was going to follow the route of cuts the parallel I thought  the title of the previous version could be extended.

Who, what, why, when, where

Hi there!
I hope you have appreciated my posts so far, for example my Ode to the Higgs and “Gravity: the dance of space and time“; I’ll return to them in the future but now it is time for me to tell you something about me: Who am I? What brought me to start a blog? Why do I like being a blogger? When did I start doing what I do? Where have I made my experiences so far? Before you give up reading let me assure you: I’m not going to write a novel of my life but, as I feel some background is important, I’ll just sketch a few chapters of my biography anyway 😉
Who. I like to define myself as a “sociable physicist”, that’s to say someone who is equally appreciative of the conquests of the human mind, as well as of them being shared with those who did not take part in the endeavor … other than paying for that through their taxes. And that is What brought me to this point of my life, where I’ve realized that my deepest passion for the physical sciences has to be expressed through what it is generally called “public outreach“. I’ve recently read a blog post debating about what meaning to assign to “public outreach”: is it something resembling preaching to the converted or does it really reach out to people who do not know why science concerns all of them? As much as I value initiatives falling in the first category, such as public lectures or popular science books, I believe they have to be accompanied by a larger set of efforts. This attitude is best defined, I think, as a marketing strategy for fundamental science, which is how I called it in a paper you can find at this address: http://arxiv.org/abs/1210.0082. There I explore why it is important that the scientific community reaches out to the largest public, through a variety of means and approaches that are tailored on the target audience. Another salient aspect of my proposal is its somewhat invasive character: you have to use your target audience’s interests in order to have it pay attention to a scientific content whatsoever. That’s where marketing kicks in. Of course among the means I propose to be more efficiently used and exploited by the scientific community are internet and the world of social media: you can’t hope to reach out to the public if you do not have a presence where the public is and spends time. Therefore I felt I had to start my own blog. Truth be told this is not my very first try: even before I opened an account on Blogger I started looking at a few other, such as those at Scientopia, where later on I have been offered a time slot as a guest blogger. Why: check.
When and Where. About a year ago I took the decision to put aside research and follow my real inclination and passion of popularizing science. I was starting my second year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland, just outside Washington DC, which I had joined after four years of doctoral training in theoretical physics at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland. All along those years I’ve promptly taken any occasion to share tales of my personal journey in the world of the physical sciences: be them related to the exploration of advanced concepts or concerning visiting scientific cathedrals, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN or the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. However most of the people with whom I could talk did not show the interest I was hoping for: in general they did not feel much drawn to the theoretical aspects, however fancy their names were, or proud citizens of a country that sponsors the pursuit of knowledge. They did not know that those cathedrals I revered so much serve two purposes: the first is the scientific goal they are after, the second is to empower mankind with new means for growth and prosperity. The most eloquent examples of how this is true are both related to CERN (I’m Italian and I’m proud of my country being among the pioneer countries which founded CERN just after World War 2). First, the Large Hadron Collider, the experiment that has discovered a new particle of Nature, be it the Higgs Boson or not, has the word “hadrons” in its name: this is a category of subatomic particles subject to the strong nuclear force; had scientists not been curious about what lies at ever more microscopic scales and how it behaves, we would have not known that hadrons exist and that they can be used as very precise projectiles to be shot at tumors lying deep down inside the human body. Second, the World Wide Web, the network we now massively use to communicate, work, exchange and look for info, travel, buy, etc: its inventor, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, used to work at CERN.
Both connections between fundamental physics and everyone’s life are so profound you’d wonder how we (read: our governments) do not try and find more ways to keep this healthy process alive. That is the mission I’ve chosen for myself: to make people aware, first, and appreciative, afterwards, of why science is both beautiful and useful. I’m confident this blogging experience will serve this purpose of mine, as well as teach me how to do it better along the way.

[ disclaimer: I have very slightly re-edited this post from a guest contribution I wrote for Scientopia ]