For instance, in just this decade human kind turned on the first x-ray free electron laser and increased the state of the art in the brightness of x-ray sources by 10 ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE!!! I'm not sure I can fully explain how transformational that level of improvement was because I work on the accelerator side, not the user side. But, at least understand that there are entire subfields that now exist which didn't before. Not just physics, but in biology, chemistry, materials science, and numerous other fields. It's an instrument so powerful that every other scientifically advanced nation is now building their own. That instrument was developed by physicists and not high energy physicists.
I feel that this also gets at a sort of toxic notion that I've noticed some high energy physicists in my own department have (not all, but you probably know the people that I'm talking about). The notion is that if you aren't working on 12 dimensional quantum theories of gravity or the holographic principle and black hole physics, then you aren't a real physicist. Somehow they think that if your work has a real world impact, then it's tainted in some way. I'm not sure how it's gotten this way, but I've actually been told as much by another grad student that my field should be moved to the engineering department because we aren't doing real physics.
I got told that by a professor when I was looking at PhD options, I ended up in the maths department physics group because it was much nicer.
It's an odd kind of self selection. People who aren't there to feel smart don't sign up for the course so high energy theoretical physics gets ever more filled with insufferable assholes.
Not to say that the whole group was, but while every other group had the one token dickhead everyone avoided it seemed that the high energy theoretical group was run by them and the non-dickheads in the group were barely tolerated and mainly there to boost citations.
This is not rhetorical. There are some works for which there is a concrete positive answer (which might not be simple). But there is much more for which the answer is simply nothing.
I left the field years ago because it was clear that most of the work being done is not physics.
I'm not saying this to downplay the project (I know very little about it) but the reception among those in the field it's supposedly applicable for has been underwhelming.
The real breakthroughs that I was talking about are for time resolved and "diffract before destroy" experiments for delicate samples. Those ones can't really be done at a synchrotron with long bunches.
I'm especially excited for femtosecond time resolved measurements of chemical reactions. It's going to be so cool to watch chemical reactions occur at an atomic scale.
I guess the other cool application is that there is so much light that you can perform diffraction off of single molecules when you want your sample in solution/gas phase or can't form crystals. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression was that the intensity of XFELs also enabled that.
The way that the project is being sold from the structural side is that you won't need a crystal, which is obviously huge. However, there's the issue of scale, and also the classic issue of... We can't refocus diffracted X rays so we're still limited by protein we can express in a selenium doped media, since you need the selenium signal to determine phase data from the diffractions. The list of proteins that are soluble but won't crystallize/can't be resolved by Cryo-EM is pretty small, and so it's an incremental upgrade no one will have access to, at best. At least, from the structural side.
Wow, so The Big Bang Theory is actually pretty good documentary about how modern physic departments operate?
All of basic principles that underlie our everyday experiences don't need quarks and gluons. They're governed by standard quantum mechanics which was fleshed out in the 20's. However, just because we have Newton's laws of the subatomic world doesn't mean we can answer interesting scientific questions with them. I'd even say that people that call something like the standard model a "theory of everything" are a little naive since you can never use to it make predictions outside of the most simple systems.
That area (pushing ahead away from model systems) is the complexity frontier of physics and is where I'm most excited for advancements. It's where we can write out the equation that describes high-TC superconductors, but it has so many dimensions that we can't solve it and make one that works at room temperature. Is that engineering or physics? I'd call the scientific problem of figuring out the laws that emerge from quantum mechanics for these complicated systems physics.
In a similar vein, Maxwell "discovered" the free electron laser in the 1800s. He wrote down the laws of E&M and then everything in the world was solved. That's clearly a dumb way to think of it though, and the new physics that was discovered were the emergent laws that fall out of it when you apply those laws to a system of relativistic particles.
In particular, the emergent phenomena that had to be discovered for the free electron laser (FEL) was the micro-bunching instability. It's a subtle interaction between relativistic particles and a field of photons that will feedback and cause them to bunch together while dumping their energy into the field of light producing the coherent laser radiation. It was that phenomena and the realization that it could be used to create a powerful laser that are the new physics here.
On the other side, the advancement of the FEL to the point that it could make x-rays requires a lot of other new physics to create the machine. This is where there is a bit of a blurred line between physics and engineering. However, I'd still call what we're doing (developing new laws of physics that govern complex systems) physics. Just because we use them to build a machine doesn't make them engineering any more than a solid state physicist discovering a new phenomena in semiconductors and then Intel taking advantage of it in their next generation of processors.
In order to REALLY understand our physical world, we can't write down reductionist laws and say that we're done. It's also notable that the two developers of the free electron laser are rumored to be in the running for the Nobel prize in physics, so it's not just me who thinks that they are physicists, not engineers.
Edit: BTW, here is a great paper that reviews the physics that makes a free electron laser work if anyone is interested.
Huang, Z., & Kim, K.-J. (2007). Review of x-ray free-electron laser theory. Physical Review Special Topics - Accelerators and Beams, 10(3), 034801. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTAB.10.034801
Paul Dirac. The quote is:
"The underlying physical laws necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty is only that the exact application of these laws leads to equations much too complicated to be soluble. It therefore becomes desirable that approximate practical methods of applying quantum mechanics should be developed, which can lead to an explanation of the main features of complex atomic systems without too much computation."
Consider the famous case of Student's T Distribution - it was discovered via engineering, but it is clearly work that was done in the domain of mathematics rather than engineering.
That which is new is science. That which is re-learning an old lesson is engineering.
If we want to get into the philosophical difference between engineering and physics, engineering at its core is solving problems and science is answering questions. There is obvious overlap and no clear distinction.
In contrast, it is quite hard to be a brilliant scientist without doing something novel.
That's a touch unkind of your friend ... but I think it hits the heart of the problem.
"High-energy physics" is pretty much "uniquely" physics and so is easy to describe to laymen as "physics".
Conversely, the line between something like "solid state physics" and "solid state engineering" can be really blurry (the solid state EE's and solid state physics folks at my alma mater took almost exactly the same classes at the graduate level). So it's a lot harder to describe the differences to laymen even if you point out that solid-state physics is what gave us semiconductors and computer chips.
Similarly, ITER is going to suck up a hundred billion in science funding that could have gone into a hundred $1B programs intsead of one giant one.
Shuttle is a shining example of efficiency, competence, pragmatism, and execution in comparison.
Also, ITER is a plasma physics experiment. It is being made to learn about plasma behavior. It isn’t going to fail or somehow not produce useful results before DT or high Q campaigns. A fusion reactor does not fall out of the sky. Was the V2 a failure because all it did was eat up a bunch of money and blow up a bunch of expensive equipment? No. The knowledge costs money. Tangible things are laughably low value by comparison.
ITER is supposed to get break-even. Plasma experiments can better be done at smaller, much cheaper facilities (many of which already exist).
ITER, as of 2006, was supposed to be followed almost immediately by DEMO, a power plant capable of producing electricity in 2033. But now ITER is so delayed that it's almost irrelevant. In order to address climate change, we'll have to have transitioned to, say, solar and storage before the 2050s when DEMO might be built, or we'll be stuck with terrible climate consequences.
It's just insane how bad it has been. ITER is so badly delayed that it's almost certainly not going to be a key player in fighting climate change.
As for breakeven: no plasma physicist I’ve talked to see it as some amazing barrier. It is what it’s always been: a publicity thing. It gets people excited so laypeople can point and say “See! It works!” without having to dive deep into physics and economics. The real physics goals of ITER are in testing models when pushed outside of previously measured parameters. You can’t just spend $50 billion on a reactor and hope it works. That’s why increasingly large and expensive science machines are necessary. Once a design is complete you don’t need diagnostics and scientists. You just need a tritium processing facility, some HTS coils, some vessels, and some plasma heaters.
You're conflating ITER with fusion power in general. There're at least half a dozen competing approaches to fusion power with several orders of magnitude lower funding. Several of them are probably more promising than ITER, but ITER is primarily a political project, and only secondarily (at best) a physics project.
Fusion is a technology that's being pursued because it was being pursued, not because it's particularly attractive from a practical point of view.
This is not true. DEMO will not be able to breed Tritium.
Without tritium breeding, there will be no self-suffiency in term of fuel. You can't filter Tritium from sea water because it is not there - it is unstable. There is no fusion experiment which could achieve a Deuterium-Deuterium fusion within the next decades, the required densities are many orders of magnitudes away.
You can generate Deuterium by electrolysis and isotope separation of water, but to day, Tritium can only be produced in heavy-water generators. Which exist only a few in the world, and which are powered by uranium.
In theory, yes, it could be possible to breed tritium within a fusion reactor. But this is as theoretical as somebody in the 17th century saying that you could adapt a steam engine to flap wings and make it just a bit lighter to get a flying machine which could carry a few hundred people with near speed of sound across the Atlantic, at once.
DEMO not only will breed tritium, it will not be feasible without tritium breeding. Otherwise, it would not be able to operate, as it will run out of DT fuel. Even getting enough tritium to start DEMO operations will be difficult, as there will be little left after ITER is done. The primary source of tritium, heavy water power reactors, will not long survive, and even all of those would not provide enough tritium for DEMO operation without DEMO being able to make its own tritium.
The need for breeding to work at DEMO means there's going to have to be an intermediate reactor, a Fusion Nuclear Science Facility, between ITER and DEMO to firm up blanket engineering.
I don't think this gets talked about much because, frankly, those in power in the fusion community will be retired by then.
But is that the fault of the scientists and engineers working on it? Or of the politicians writing the checks (and their apathy and/or conflicts of interest)?
I imagine Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters saying this to the Columbia dean as their lab is being disassembled and they are being fired.
Worse. It won't even address the question what could be the so far unknown near magic materials which a breeding blanket would need to be made of. to support sustainable Tritium re-generation, which would be needed a long time before any demonstration could be hoped to produce any electrical power.
In short, D-T fusion - the only process which can be imagined to be accessible by magnetic inclusion - needs a supply of Tritium and this needs a working Tritium breeding system, with a neutron loss factor below 1. It is completely unknown how to achieve that.
I'm not saying you're wrong btw, just that I had high hopes.
If you say solar or wind, I'll tell you not without solid state physics experiments to multiply battery capacity by at least 10x.
(Not impossible, but as much pie in the sky as fusion.) Or a global electric network. Or space solar with concomitant energy sending infrastructure.
Nuclear is good for maybe 300 years. (And not exclusive with other sources.) Hydro, geothermal are nice where we can have them.
Anything else, we don't even know where to start.
Given reasonable projections of where renewables, batteries, and electrolysers will be in 10 years, one will be able to synthesize artificial baseload sources at a lower cost than nuclear fission, anywhere in the world (in some places much less). And fusion will have a very hard time being competitive even with fission.
I'm not sure you understand the scale involved. We're talking billions tons sodium. Millions tons aluminum and steel.
Hence the 10x.
If you meant sodium compounds, not sodium metal, note that annual world production of sodium chloride is about 200 million tonnes.
Oh, and about "millions of tons of aluminum and steel": 2019 world steel production was 1.89 BILLION tonnes. Aluminum production in 2018, 60 million tonnes. The world economy is very large. An energy infrastructure capable of powering that economy will also be large, be it renewable, nuclear, or unicorn power.
Sodium chloride is useful for many things beside batteries, if we were to use that as the source. Say, sulphur as well, other traces too.
10x batteries make this a no brainer and super easy to implement, and economical. Heck, 3x batteries even.
You need to make and place enough panels too, doable but needs a lot of political will. And will of course take some time as well.
I think we shouldn't put the cart before the horse though. Fix the immediate problem with a few smaller nuclear plants and work real hard on our own pace to replace them with renewables.
If fusion comes in the meantime, great. In the meantime, we can use the spare resources to remove other sources of GHG vent. (Say optimize transportation.)
See the other branch on how I view fusion. I see DD or enhanced DT fusion as endgame and mostly a space technology. (Fusion engines would be rather nice. Think 50x better ion engines, the technology is related.) Few hundred years of work.
Yes, any global energy system will be extremely expensive. Trillions of dollars worth of expensive. That it is a lot of work is not a showstopper.
I don't see nuclear being part of that solution, though. Why waste money on something that is demonstrably inferior? It had its chance. We don't need to invest in losers.
Fusion is not an endgame. Fusion is bullshit. It's Rube Goldberg on stilts. From an engineering point of view, it's pretty much the opposite of attractive. Keep It Simple, Stupid is not just a slogan.
DT fusion makes no sense in space. The energy comes out as neutrons, which get turned to heat. You can make heat with fission in space much more easily, and with much less reactor mass, than you can with fusion. The notion that fusion is somehow good for space comes from science fiction more than anything. It's a trope, not a good idea.
Especially because the Tritium fuel problem is not solved, and nobody has the faintest idea how to solve it. The materials needed to breed Tritium in something different from the Sun (or thermonuclear weapons) just do not exist for now.
Not only cheap, but also sustainable.
Coal is plenty cheap.
Even redox batteries are, as you need rather pure salts. Even pump storage, cheapest option, would require tons of concrete, which means we'd have serious lime shortage. (Once we run out of natural mountains to use.) Plastics cannot be used as they're either not strong enough or require too much fossil fuels.
Any of these problems can be attacked, and they're all about as easy and solvable. Prediction would give about 40 years until that battery capacity is reached. Fusion could be there just as soon.
This is not to say we should stop developing renewables, but we need 100% clean power yesterday. Or rather 20 years ago. Currently the only open path is nuclear with enough other renewables (expected 25%-33% is doable depending on location).
We're talking gigawatthours of battery capacity installed and running per city. Even if you have everyone an electric car with best available batteries, that would maybe come close. (And the network would have to be heavily as adapted. I've accounted for battery wear and manufacturing with recycling of said batteries.)
Top end sodium-sulphur batteries would work too, in equivalent amount. (They do like 250 kWh per bank. Car lithium-ion do ~120 kWh, but you probably want to drive them in the morning.)
Mind you the renewables to power them won't materialize overnight either. You get to pay energy and material to make them and modify the grid to adapt to them.
Since we're late as all hell, the only way right now is to nuclear. We can decommission it in 50 years easily enough as needed.
We had the technology to go full renewable since 80s...
That ARC reactor design, if extended to world energy demand, would require 100x known beryllium resources.
It will be very useful when we get to space, for example, unless we figure out something better.
Much fewer problems with it than with nuclear up there. (Especially with getting fuel.)
I'd disagree that they are there to pump money into administrators. Some of these problems are just really hard and requires monstrously large organizations to make headway. At worst, I'd say that they are misguided/focusing on the wrong scientific questions or in the case of ITER stuck on a path that should have been abandoned a while ago.
A stellarator like Wendelstein 7-X looks like a much more promising design.
That doesn’t mean backing out of ITER 15 years ago would have been a good idea. It would be an even worse idea to back out of it now.
I'm really looking forward to what XFEL can do for material science. Perhaps we can finally replace plastics with something like eutectic systems, bulk metallic glass, or the classic transparent aluminum.
This is because all observations are theory-laden. They don’t tell you anything without a framework to interpret them in.
That said, I do recollect mostly condescending attitudes from the HEP folks.
After finishing my Ph.D., I moved on to a successful career with building, deploying, supporting supercomputers, and the codes that run on them. My friend meanwhile, wound up working in condensed matter physics, modeling semiconductors (which is what I wrote my thesis on) for a large chip company.
It seems reality sometimes has a sense of humor.
> physics has a communication problem
It puzzles me how in 2020 it's still common to believe that the world is a fully deterministic place. That kind of proves that the results stay inside Universities despite a lot of popular science publications.
Solid state phishing sees some advances, but they are not earth shattering, compared to biology. The day where there will be a substance you put on a cavity of a tooth and it cleans the wound and settles will be something worth of news (that's just an example).
At some point, with limited funding, one must make a choice on "fundamental studies" and study what has a chance of having a practical use.
Just in case : I have a PhD in particle physics done at CERN and I regret not having taken a field which makes more sense than such impractical studies.
What does physics need? The world doesn't know. Nobody knows but someone will do it, someday in a manner no one else thought possible or could really anticipate. In fact, that's not entirely true but new developments will happen and only a handful of people will be in the loop. Lorenz, Poincare etc. e.g. laid some vital groundwork for relativity.
My own two cents on the matter is that we really don't understand our theories well enough and are badly in need of a firmer foundation. The situation is analogous to calculus before Weierstrass, Cauchy, Dedekind and Cantor.
Of course, mathematics wasn't completely stuck just because calculus wasn't fully developed. Probability and non-Euclidean geometry were stunning developments which predated a truer understanding of real numbers.
So it is with physics right now. Unification, strings, etc. isn't working out so well right now. Quantum computing is now a thing and Quantum mechanics is enjoying a second revolution not unlike the General Relativity Renaissance led by Penrose, et. al.
We can't predict the future. We don't know the sequence things we need to take the next step in AI or even if there is one. Will some form of deep learning be all we need? Probably not but possibly yes.
Physics is right where it should be. Frustration is part of the process. We're feeling some pain because our approach isn't working. Instead of having answers to everything maybe we should focus on better questions.
One youtuber I saw spends time looking at new research papers for ideas and has found that they are just impossible to reproduce. Following the steps exactly as well as every possible variation doesn't produce anything close to the results described in the paper. In another video  he attempts to make glass and finds that almost all of the information available on the internet about making glass is not enough to actually make glass since they contain only enough information to register a patent but not enough to make from scratch.
I wonder if we will see huge gains by just making complete and unobfiscated information available to the public since it looks like even the foundations of society are secret company internal information.
From how to make glass from sand to how to build a quantum computer.
(An attempt at humour referencing the "set of all sets" paradox. That is all, as you were.)
If you measure a scientist not by what they accomplished, but by what they got wrong, you'll quickly find that there are no good scientists.
I think that is precisely what the professor meant when he talked about Einstein, not the person himself with all his brilliance and mistakes, but someone capable of revolutionary way of thinking to jolt physics out of it's current stagnant state. Which is specially important since, physicists have turned into almost religious believer of their own, untestable theories, and incapable/unwilling to think outside of that narrow box.
The most important work, relativity, should be credited to Lorentz and Poincaré.
"Density of mass is _not_ the source of gravity. A difference in density is.
There is no difference in density of the Universe (as a whole) compared to 'outside the Universe' since there is no 'outside the Universe'. And therefore gravity does _not_ dominate the Universe. More precisely: there is no gravity of the Universe (as a whole) at all. - To apply the field equations to the Universe as a whole (Friedmann) is nonsense."
It is simple and well known in Germany for years (of course it is still under the regime of U.S.-cancel culture).
It doesn't need another Einstein to know his cosmology was wrong.
"In the next ten years, the most important discovery in high-energy physics is that 'the party's over'."
Bear in mind though that the comment was made in the 1980s; people on both sides will debate how prescient he was.
Some background and counterpoints in the context of the proposed Chinese super-collider:
It's certainly wrong to imagine that we need a Great Man in order to come and fix everything. Perhaps we need a Great Insight, but also perhaps the insight has already been published and it simply hasn't been well-adopted yet. After all, people are still today fighting against basic century-old quantum mechanics, hoping that reality is more material and determined than it actually is.
Not really, since every valid theory must be testable and falsifiable. The idea that all of reality has been a fleeting random agglomeration of particles that experienced this exact moment, of you reading my sentence here, before dispersing and taking all of suggested reality with it - in other words, a Boltzmann brain - well, it's a cool idea, but where does it get you? It's not falsifiable, ever, so it's not science. It's philosophy, and as such it's not something that a scientist, let alone a whole field of scientists, should be spending their time on. Instead, they should be doing actual science, grounded in realism.
If they want to put on a philosopher hat after work and talk about Boltzmann brains, on the other hand, that's great. I, for one, will lap up the crazy philosophies generated by the mind of a physicist, with gusto. But I'd rather they (or so least, most physicists) stick with actual science, aka, their job, most of the time.
Boltzmann brains imply that I should wake up tomorrow with an equal probability of the sun being an orange circle and the sun being a blue unicorn. I've made that bet with myself every night I go to bed for the last twenty years, and it's landed on orange circle every time.
Cute concept, but not buying it.
It's not like math has no concepts without locality. Locality is absent from most of mathematics. The question is, what specifically is the math that models reality? The thing that has locality almost everywhere and for almost everything but a couple exceptions? And what other exceptions can we expect? So it's not that physicists don't accept non locality, it's that so far no mathematical theory that explains the relationship between locality and non locality of correlation precisely in a way that matches reality and makes other testable predictions.
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Incentives in academia seems to be directed towards bringing in grant money. I like Barto and Sutton's discussion of 'nomadic' researchers (8:54, but the entire video is great):
I don't know if this is a positive or negative for scientific progress, but, those are just two links that add perspective to academic research/funding.
Then someone asked "What are those blue sparks I see when I take off my jumper (sweater) in a dark bedroom?"
We just need to find the next sparks. :)
Electricity was a subject of intense study throughout the 19th century and before (think of the people we've named units and effects after - Galvano, Volta, Ampere, Ohm, etc)
> in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes
I support more science, but it's overwhelmingly clear. We don't need more science to create a vision and strategy. People need to feel meaning and purpose, to have an expectation of success. That comes from what leaders work on -- stories, images, role models, systems, emotions, and culture.
So I focus on leadership -- bringing what people like Mandela, Eisenhower, Ali, and Deming brought but I don't see anyone doing today. My TEDx talks https://joshuaspodek.com/tedx and podcast illustrate what I'm working on, though I've advanced a lot since then.
Here are podcast episodes describing my strategy:
But maybe some fresh ideas from other fields of physics are necessary for particle physics. The problem it seems to me is that the people working in high energy physics and string theory are often very narrow minded and are ignoring important developments outside of their own field.
- Mach's principle
- Michelson - Morley experiment
- Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism
- minkowsky space-time
- Lorentz transformations
- Riemann's geometry
- Ricci curvature tensor
- Christoffel's connection symbols
- Newton's observation and attempt to account for the perihelion precession of mercury's orbit (not to mention his motion and gravity laws in the first place)
- Schwarzschild's solution to the field equations
- Kerr metric and solutions
- .. and amongst all that we have the Einstein field equations
Maybe dark matter research will just find dark matter and yield neither more questions nor useful applications. Maybe it will yield a whole new area of enquiry with 1001 useful applications.
We just don't know. No one should assume that X Hours/Dollars/Papers in physics represents an actual amount of "discovery".
This is the biggest strength of science: this rigidness of thought is what protects it from clever charlatans. But this is also its biggest weakness because this risk-averse behavior, when scientists can't risk saying unapproved things without torpedoing their own reputation, is why science makes only tiny steps. Right now physics has reached a rather big obstacle on its way and the usual risk-averse-one-tiny-step-at-a-time tactics won't work.
It’s much better to give a hard time to dedicated people than to risk giving an easy time to charlatans.
Since you can’t really judge novel ideas, you can make the process just hard enough that charlatans drop out to some area where they can get fame and money for cheaper.
In past, many of the breakthru ideas came from aristocrats: they were rich enough to not give a shit about their reputation in academia.
The energy levels needed to brute force more interesting physics is quite possibly beyond being achievable by humanity.
I don't know enough Quantum Field Theory to calculate it on the spot but I have read that to detect any gravitons at all we would need a planet sized detector orbiting closely around a black hole
Like the energy released when 2 black holes collide? We're going to need a bigger capacitor.
afaik gravity is pretty well studied by predicting the planets
> needs another Einstein to revolutionize it
Nope. The smartest minds today need to work on two topics: AI/AGI, and anti-aging/longevity
Once these two problems are cracked, we'd be on a smoother transition path towards Type-1 Kardashev civilization.
Then the smartest (long-living) minds can sit down with their favorite AGI collaborators in their ivory towers and have all the fun they want to have.
If we have indeed hit some type of human wall, AGI at least gives us some long term option to potentially leap it.
I'm not sure how much longevity research would help on that front, given the age distribution of scientists making breakthroughs, but it's nice in its own right.
I recommend looking into longevity forums, SENS foundation, Aubrey de Grey talks, etc, etc.