Even if you live under a rock, you are probably aware of the global financial crisis looming over humanity today. All politics and political opinions aside, the budgets of governments around the world need to be trimmed so everyone can keep their heads above water. Scientific experimentation is often the target of such budget cuts. Let us take particle physics as an example, in the grand scheme of things, does knowing whether or not knowing about the Higgs boson existence affect everyday people? What does particle physics do for you, the average every-day person? Today, we’d like you to give you a list of the macroscopic changes that have come from the subatomic world of particle physics.
Yes, that’s right; the modern diaper was born in a particle accelerator. Here, chemists were able to look at the structure of the superabsorbent polymer material in amazing detail. This front-row view allowed the chemists to better manipulate the polymers so they could be uber-superabsorbent. In addition to pretty much all modern day diapers, these superabsorbent polymers can also be found in candles, filtration devices, fire-retardant gels, fragrance carriers, hot and cold therapy packs, spill control substances, potting soil, surgical pads, and many ther items as well. In addition, superabsorbent polymers were used to help stop the highly radioactive leak from reactor 2 in the Fukushima nuclear disaster from 2012 (I’d say this little experiment turned out to be rather useful in the long run).
We have a love-hate relationship with shrink wrap. Polyolefin is the polymer most commonly used in shrink wrap. It tends to shrink when heat is applied, allowing companies to wrap pretty much everything in it: the CDs and DVDs that take you 20 minutes to open (ok, maybe that’s not such a good thing), it wraps buildings, it is used in palletized freight, and is used like crazy in the food industry. Shrink wrap has been used for decades to ease with the transport of food and to help keep a large variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables fresher longer.
Love them or hate them, cargo scanners are also a byproduct of research in particle physics. Using high energy x-rays, seaports and airports around the world are able to peer deeper and more accurately into containers in their attempts to identify contraband and other, shall we say ‘hazards,’ in an effort to keep the port and country safe.
OK, moving away from big brother, lets hit medicine – everyone loves medicine. MRIs have revolutionized medicine and are also a result of research in particle physics. The MRI, which means Magnetic Resonance Imaging, doesn’t work like traditional x-ray machines and is much safer. Here, the MRI machine images the nuclei of atoms inside the body to paint a very detailed picture of what your innards look like. The machine is able to distinguish between muscles, organs, cancerous tissue, and non cancerous tissue. We have some extraordinarily detailed images of the brain, the workings of the brain, and the machine is able to help identify blood flow and signs of a stroke. The sheer number of lives this incredible device has saved is unbelievable.
The electron rules modern society, and it was mastered in a particle physics laboratory. The internet is a profound example of the benefits that have come from particle research. Without it, you obviously wouldn’t be reading this article right now while you wait for that funny cat video to load in your other browser. In addition, grid computing has risen as a necessity, demanding thousands of computers to network with each other and work together to analyze the sheer volume of data coming from the Large Hadron Collider.
To quickly fire off several other benefits you get from particle physics research, we’ve been able to develop better batteries, greener energy, higher-performing materials, and more effective drug treatments from particle research. That scratch-resistant couch you bought because of your cat, and the stain-resistant rug for protection against your dog’s bladder also came from particle research. Scuff resistant furniture and better artificial heart valves, as you guessed, are also byproducts of our efforts in particle research.
Oh…and we are learning about the mysteries of the universe and uncovering the secrets of pretty much everything. Who said science was a waste of money?