News Science

The Problem with Particle Physics?

A recent article by Professor Sabine Hossenfelder criticising the work of particle physicists, specifically the invention of new particles, has sparked conversations on the methodology for investigating particle collisions. In the article, Professor Hossenfelder, has criticised how researchers deal with anomalous results, and labels particle physicists as ‘ambulance chasers’, where the invention of a new particle is the knee-jerk reaction to solve such problems. 

Whilst the article itself is interesting and provocative, Professor Hossenfelder’s criticisms are reflective of her experiences and concerns regarding the field, which should of course be recognised and be met with reason and reflection, but the article undermines extensive research and work in particle physics. This becomes more evident when considering how much more data the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) is yet to collect (at present only about 5% of the projected data has been collected), as well as the incremental improvements of the technology used at the LHC and the negative light it shines on a field which fascinates so many prospective physicists.

Arguably, Professor Hossenfelder’s article is unfair by portraying particle physics as a field that is redundant. Her criticisms do not consider the wider picture, for example the LHC will run for another twenty years, over which the collection of data will increase exponentially, investigating more particle collisions, at higher degrees of accuracy with modern and innovative technology which is continuously being improved and integrated into particle colliders. Furthermore, her article can serve as a pessimistic representation of a field which has captured many prospective physicists. Speaking to physics students at The University of Edinburgh, one of them described the article as ‘disappointing from the perspective of a [physics] student’ and described the ‘cycle of arbitrarily theorising’ as falling short of their expectation. Another commented how the comments in the article were ‘sweeping’ and it made such a ‘significant branch of physics seem far too unpromising’.  It is clear to me that the article can have an adverse effect on students of physics, as well as those who are simply interested in a science which expands our knowledge of the very building blocks of our universe. 

Scientific research is founded on uncovering truths in uncertainty, and particle physics has been pushing the boundaries of our understanding for decades. It is a field which has inspired brilliant research and is continuing to do so. Furthermore, consider the mysteries of the universe that are yet to be solved, such as the quantum nature of the gravitational force, the graviton, supersymmetry, dark matter, dark energy, the list goes on. But, essentially there are so many exciting, challenging and undoubtedly difficult problems that can be solved, but we cannot become pessimistic and cynical right now, when there is so much work to be done. 

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Image by Gerd Altmann, ‘00040 Waves And Particles’, licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.