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How will current research affect our lifes?

  1. Jul 20, 2012 #1
    I had a debate with my dad today. At the core, there were questions like:

    • How does the Higgs boson affect my life?
    • Why do we spend so much money at CERN? Couln't they do smaller experiments?
    • Why do we look for extraterrestial planets although we lack a decent spaceship to even get there?
    • Why do we spend money on an ISS and not on communication satellites?

    I am still pretty young and just started with my Bachelor in Physics (first year). So I mentioned Heinrich Hertz and what EM-waves mean in our lives today. He said that the stuff that we just saw at CERN was thought up 50 years ago. Einstein's theory is even older. And Hertz was even older. There is nothing current.

    Maybe I have a too strong “progress for the sake of progress”-mentality to see how unuseful current research is. Are there any good examples of how current research really makes a change in todays life?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2012 #2
    Well the higgs boson is pretty life changing since it has such a large effect on the universe.
  4. Jul 20, 2012 #3
    The Higgs boson discovery doesn't affect your life, and won't in the foreseeable future. We don't have any real hope that high-energy particle physics experiments will lead to any useful new technology in the near term. The best argument you can make in that direction is that the equipment needed to do the experiments pushes the bounds of what is currently possible, and so helps move the associated technology forward.

    Not if you want to e.g. discover the Higgs. If there were a less costly way to do that particular experiment, you can be assured that particle physicists would do that.

    Indeed, why do any astronomy when everything we look at outside our solar system is so incredibly far away?

    I think this is a false dichotomy; I'm not aware that we are sacrificing the opportunity to launch commercial satellites in order to build the ISS. That said, I'm not sure the ISS is particularly useful, especially on a per cost basis, as a scientific tool. Arguably it has political benefits, being a cooperative international project.

    Some of the most interesting science being done does not have technological applications. You have to decide whether this is a reason not to do the science. Personally, I think it is intrinsically worthwhile to learn about the universe. Finding out the true physical laws is a valuable human activity even if known approximations suffice for all human engineering. Learning how the universe began is good, even though this knowledge is quite useless. Humans do, and should do, many things that are not practical, like art, literature, and fundamental physics.
  5. Jul 20, 2012 #4


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    Why did we spend money on the previous experiments?
    Well, the world wide web was developed for scientists to communicate. I think we can agree that this did affect our lifes. Otherwise, close your browser ;).
    Large superconducting magnets were developed, they later found an "everyday" application in medical imaging and other imaging tasks (NMR).
    Detectors for particle accelerator experiments were developed - and today, CT-scans rely on good detectors.

    In a similar way, the LHC has a lot of side-applications.

    While we do not have the technology to fly to extrasolar planets, we do have the technology to observe them - and if there is life and if it is able to receive and send radio waves, we could even communicate with them.

    In the ISS, many experiments are performed which are not possible on earth or with communication satellites. Their applications are too widespread (and sometimes indirect) to list them.

    Most innovations rely on fundamental research which was done without knowledge of this specific innovation. Electromagnetism is a good example, the first steps of quantum mechanics are one, lasers are another one. The timescale "fundamental research"->"application" can be some decades, so do not ask for applications of things discovered months or years ago, please.
  6. Jul 20, 2012 #5


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    The impact that various aspects of science have on people is worth considering. If you view a picture of Jupiter it can inspire you to do great things, to get into science or engineering and help invent or discover new things. I cannot stress how much of an impact just knowing what the universe is really like has had on me personally. It changes your perspective on many things, including life itself. Consider that there was practically no immediate benefit to sending men to the moon, yet that led to one of the apollo astronauts taking a picture of the Earth that has been dubbed "The Blue Marble". This widely distributed photo has possibly given many people a new outlook on our planet, and it is thought that this helped the environmental movement that sprung up in the 70's take hold.

    My final thought on this is that even without any known tangible benefits, the possibilities are endless. You never know what a little knowledge will enable.
  7. Jul 20, 2012 #6


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    Hi, magnetic flux!
    A very good point.
    Yes, but it was still only a theory. It could have been wrong. Now it seems the theory is correct. Very important. The impact is impossible to foresee at this moment.
    Yes, but that's not a good argument. And the same goes for Einstein, his theory (theories) could have been proven wrong by experiment. But they weren't. (1, 2). Now e.g. GPS navigation relies on relativity.
    Hertz demonstrated that electromagnetic waves exist (1887) - quite important - validating Maxwells theory (ca 1861-73). No Maxwell, no Hertz (?), no Einstein (?), no Quantum Theory (?), no radio (?), no laser (?), no GPS (?) etc etc.
    That is fortunately simply not correct. Consider nanotechnology, condensed matter physics, biotechnology, photonics, spintronics, quantum physics, physics beyond the Standard Model (here on this forum, wiki, supersymmetry, string theory, quantum gravity - all theoretical though) etc. etc.

    And if that's not enough:

    It is impossible to predict the impact of science on the near or far future, no-one can do it; the best one can do is guess, i.e. speculate. But we can look at the past and try to imagine our progress (or lack of progress) without previous research and breakthroughs. Remove/delay Newtons physics, Darwins evolution, Maxwells equations, Einsteins relativity, the discovery of DNA, the development of the transistor, Hubbles galaxies and 20-21st century quantum mechanics (some epic examples). I wouldn't like to be without those. If we want our scientific progress to stop, we can simply stop doing science. But it would be a very bad choice, if you ask me.

    (Your questions actually inspired me to write a longer reply than this. But instead of hijacking the thread, I will write a blog post about the role of science (incl. comments on Higgs, LHC etc.) later in my blog. I thank you for the inspiration!)

    Your topic seems to be about science in general, but also about fundamental versus applied science. Therefore I would also like to recommend the following:
    CERN Higgs Boson July 4th 2012 press conference (see clip between 0:58:35 - 1:01:45), where Rolf Heuer gives an excellent description of the important balance between fundamental and applied science (I actually recommend the entire press conference, it is very interesting and quite fun, actually.)

    Drakkith said
    That's very true. The first epiphany I remember was when I saw a picture of the Bohr model of the atom. I thought to myself, wow, so it is this thing that's responsible for everything we experience! I later found out that my assumption was not quite correct; the atom can't explain everything and the Bohr model is incorrect, but it was the start of my interest in physics, now a long time ago. My interest has not yet diminished.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2012
  8. Jul 21, 2012 #7
    Without a doubt glycobiology. In fact, maybe even more so than decoding the genome. Knowing DNA inside and out still doesn't mean you know how to control life.
  9. Jul 30, 2012 #8
    Thanks for your replies, there a couple really nice points in there!
  10. Aug 1, 2012 #9
    As to why we look for planets it is our need to explore. More so than anything in life we have to explore even with our limited technology it is human nature. The very fact that we can detect planets and that we may not be alone makes any search worthwhile.
  11. Aug 1, 2012 #10
    We travel not for trafficking alone:
    By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
    For lust of knowing what should not be known
    We take the Golden Road to Samarkand
  12. Aug 1, 2012 #11


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    Like everything, things become more refined, more organized, more clarified, and eventually something that is useful and tangible if it is taken to to the right stage.

    It is a paradigm for human endeavor: when we start something new and unexplored, the route to the destination is often muddied with a path that is erratic and seemingly un-connected, but then things happen which change the game and over time, things become more refined and clear and are able to be polished, engineered, and understood.

    I think it was Einstein who said that we can't solve problems with the thinking that created them, and on that parallel, we can't envision a future when our mind is in the past or the present.
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