I Heart Particle Accelerators!

There’s great news, nay stupendous news, that should be tweeted and facebooked immediately. Turns out, physics can actually benefit society.

How’s that for a page-turner?

I learned this at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego a few weeks ago. And yes, I sat on the news for all this time. Please don’t hate me.

The session where this bulletin was revealed was curiously not a press conference. Rather, it was a group of symposia entitled Particles and People: How Basic Physics Benefits Society, and in it I discovered some very critical information about the science in general, and about particle physics and accelerators specifically.

Yes, we all have been hit over the head 100 times about the impending black hole to be created at CERN that’s going to swallow us up, and the related anti-matter or “God Particle” that will wipe us and the planet away which the documentary “Angels and Demons” courageously exposed. But here I found out other invaluable tidbits about why we should really care about particle physics and accelerators. The session was presented by Elizabeth Clements and Katie Yurkewicz of Fermi National Accelerators Laboratory, and their information was echoed at the US Department of Energy’s Accelerators for America website. Accelerators are awesome because they contribute to:

Semi-conductors: This sector needs accelerator innovation to embed ions on silicon chips which ensures they are more useful in consumer electronic products such as computers, cell phones and MP3 players.

Clean air and water: Research demonstrates that “blasts of electrons from a particle accelerator are an effective way to clean up dirty water, sewage sludge and polluted gases from smokestacks.”

Medical diagnostics: Accelerator technology is used to produce various radioisotopes for medical imaging and treatments.

Pharmaceutical research: “Powerful X-ray beams from synchrotron light sources allow scientists to analyze protein structures quickly and accurately, leading to the development of new drugs to treat major diseases such as cancer, diabetes, malaria and AIDS.”

Cancer therapy: “When it comes to treating certain kinds of cancer, the best tool may be a particle beam. Hospitals use particle accelerator technology to treat thousands of patients per year, with fewer side effects than traditional treatments.”

There are quite a few more reasons to fall in love with particle accelerators, but one really stands out in my mind. When I first walked into the room where the session was taking place, there was one more benefit which the speaker was highlighting: Particle physics has helps keep my butterball turkey fresh. The real truth is that the shrink wrap used for turkeys and produce, as well as commercial products such as CDs and DVDs, is created using particle accelerators.

Now that you know, how could you not heart particle accelerators?

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