What does a Particle Physicist do?

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What is a Particle Physicist?

Particle physics is a branch of physics dealing with subatomic (smaller than an atom) elements of matter and radiation as well as subatomic particles. Particle physicists look to see how these smallest possible particles exist and interact. The field of particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics, and the two are still closely correlated. Particle physics may also be called "high energy physics".

The particles that are dealt with in this field are governed by quantum mechanics. This signifies that they may show both wave-like and particle qualities. The overarching goal of particle physics is to identify the most simple objects of which matter is composed of and to understand the integral forces that drive their interactions and combinations.

Particle physicists may be associated with:

Electrons, Protons, and Neutrons -
Atomic components, of which the protons and neutrons are composed of quarks

Photons, Neutrinos, and Muons -
Particles produced by radioactive and scattering processes

Exotic or Theoretical Particles -
Like tachyons, particles said to always travel faster than the speed of light

Supersymmetry -
Sleptons, charginos, neutralinos, and squarks

String Theory

Dark Matter

Unified Field Theory

Technicolor Theories

Preon Theory

Acceleron Theory

Boson Theories

The practice of theoretical particle physics develops the standard model of particles, theories, and mathematical tools related to current and future experiments. Research in this field can lay down the foundations for many other disciplines of science, including chemistry, quantum mechanics, and general relativity.

The goal of particle physicists is to reach the physics beyond the standard model. Areas of great interest now are in studies of dark matter and neutrino masses. In 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator was constructed in Geneva, Switzerland to discover new particles and develop new theories.

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What does a Particle Physicist do?

Particle physics leans more towards the theoretical side of experimentation and research. Most particle physicists attain educational or purely research (theoretical and/or experimental) positions, or a combination of both.

As a particle physicist, you will work with pioneering technologies such as high-energy colliders to investigate the inner workings of quantum mechanics and more high-energy physics. Also, you may incorporate other fields such as astronomy into your research, working with cosmic rays from outer space.

International conferences and seminars are held annually around the globe. Particle physicists who have drawn the interest of other scientists and the media may be invited to give presentations or proposals. This may entail further invitations to give lectures or presentations in other countries' institutes and further interest in the field described.

How to become a Particle Physicist

In order to become a particle physicist, you need extensive knowledge of the quantum field theory, gauge theory, and the Higgs mechanism. This includes comprehension of quantum particles such as electrons, neutrinos, quarks, bosons, and muons. Excellence in critical thinking and experimental methods as well as dedication are vital.

In order to prepare for a career as a particle physicist, you should form a solid scientific and mathematical knowledge base in high school. Success in courses dealing with calculus, trigonometry, and statistics are highly recommended for primary education transcripts.

In undergraduate college, a strong course repertoire and a good GPA is especially important for application to graduate school. Specialization within the general major of physics is available for elementary particle physics. It is recommended to select this discipline as well as others that are useful for future employment as a particle physicist (i.e. engineering, financial management, education). Alternatively, you can work towards a major in general physics, and then choose your specialization in graduate school.

Following graduate school, 75% of physics majors decide to enter the workforce with a master's degree. Most physics professors have attained PhD degrees, which may be followed by postdoctoral research and studies. Postdoctoral studies are not required, but help significantly with steady employment opportunities in the future.

Not only must a particle physicist have a spectrum of knowledge dealing with particle physics and related topics, but he/she must also be able to communicate research to the scholarly community and the public. The most esteemed particle physicists are the ones who can arouse interest in their field from any sort of audience, so a successful career does not imply staying in a laboratory all the time.

What is the workplace of a Particle Physicist like?

A particle physicist may find positions at international laboratories working with high-energy colliders, or at a higher education institute that excels in engineering and sciences. Particle physicists usually work in particle accelerator facilities indoors, capturing what progresses inside the machines.

The United States Department of Energy funds Brookhaven National Laboratory, which employs about 3,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff, hosting 4,000 guest researchers annually. Particle physicists are able to engage in extensive high-energy research here with their Relativistic Heavy Iron Collider (RHIC), the biggest and most powerful particle accelerator other than the LHC. The RHIC is designed for quark-gluon plasma research.

The LHC is housed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which employs 2,600 regular staff members, and 7,931 scientists and engineers from 580 universities and research facilities. Another world-renowned particle accelerator is the Tevatron with a circumference of 3.9 miles, at the Ferni National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University is famous for its linear particle accelerator. DESY in Hamburg, Germany is a prominent research facility that deals with collision of electrons or positrons and protons. KEK in Tsukuba, Japan houses a neutrino oscillation experiment and an experiment measuring CP-symmetry violations in the B-meson.

External Reading

  • A Day In The Life: Cross-Sections www.quantumdiaries.org

    I thought I might take some time to describe what an experimental particle physicist actually does on a day-to-day basis.

  • How Particle Physics Can Save Your Life www.quantumdiaries.org

    From new medicines to cancer treatment, the tools of particle physics play an important role in hospitals around the world.

  • Physicist-Turned-Filmmaker Captures Seven Years Of ‘Particle Fever’ www.pbs.org

    Theoretical physicist David Kaplan discusses his new documentary “Particle Fever,” which followed scientists around the world for seven years as they hunted for the Higgs boson.

  • Couple's History Intertwined With 60 Years Of CERN www.symmetrymagazine.org

    CERN laboratory, home of the Large Hadron Collider, will celebrate 60 years of pioneering scientific research and exciting discoveries this year. Two Italian physicists, Maria and Giuseppe Fidecaro, can tell you about nearly every one of those years.

  • Particle Physics: Why Do It? And Why Do It *That* Way? profmattstrassler.com

    Who really cares about particles anyway? Why are particle physicists so interested in them?

  • Why Particle Physics Matters www.symmetrymagazine.org

    Particle physics has revolutionized the way we look at the universe. Along the way, it’s made significant impacts on other fields of science, improved daily life for people around the world and trained a new generation of scientists and computing professionals.