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Particle physics is a branch of physics dealing with subatomic (smaller than an atom) elements of matter and radiation as well as subatomic particles. A particle physicist is someone who looks to see how these particles exist and interact. The field of particle physics evolved out of nuclear physics, and the two are still closely correlated.
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.
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.
A particle physicist may be associated with any of the following areas of interest:
Electrons, Protons, and Neutrons
Photons, Neutrinos, and Muons
Exotic or Theoretical Particles
Unified Field Theory
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.
A particle physicist will work with pioneering technologies such as high-energy colliders to investigate the inner workings of quantum mechanics and more high-energy physics. They may also incorporate other fields such as astronomy into their research, working with cosmic rays from outer space. 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.
The goal of a particle physicist is to reach the physics beyond the standard model. Areas of great interest now are in studies of dark matter and neutrino masses. 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.
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.
In order to prepare for a career as a particle physicist, it is necessary to 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, an aspiring physicist can work towards a major in general physics, and then choose their specialization in graduate school.
Following graduate school, 75% of physics majors decide to attain a master's degree. Most physics professors need to have a PhD degree, which may be followed up by postdoctoral research and studies. Postdoctoral studies are not required, but help significantly with steady employment opportunities.
Extensive knowledge of the quantum field theory, gauge theory, and the Higgs mechanism will be required for this career. 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. 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.
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