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Is the field of high energy physics shrinking?

  1. Oct 7, 2012 #1

    ktb

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    I'm an undergrad at a large research university and I've been working in a high energy physics group for about two years now. Recently, a postdoc (my main advisor in the group) and I got into a more general discussion about high energy physics as a whole. He is very concerned that the funding for high energy physics has been shrinking in recent years and that many of the accelerators are turning away from high energy research. He sited a recent scare that happened where either Jefferson Lab or Brookhaven would be shut down (fortunately never happened) and how SLAC is moving towards condensed matter research. I remember him saying something like that I should think about if I want to "take a leap of faith" and go to grad school for HEP as he seems concerned that the field is shrinking.

    My time with the group so far has gone really well and I'm thinking that I probably do want to go to grad school for HEP. However, I don't want to submerge myself in something like this if there is not going to be opportunities later on to continue in the field.
     
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  3. Oct 7, 2012 #2
    Well, there isn't as much funding for HEP as there is for condensed matter. At my university, there often isn't enough money for high energy theorists to be research assistants, and they have to continue as teaching assistants for 5 years. But, I cannot speak to whether the field is growing or shrinking. I'm not sure it's possible to predict what will happen in the future either. For all we know, there could be a big breakthrough in HEP which spurs investment in the field.
     
  4. Oct 7, 2012 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    First, neither BNL nor JLAB are HEP labs. They are both nuclear, although BNL has a small HEP program. So that's not directly relevant.

    Second, it is true that the OHEP budget is shrinking, especially over the last four years, where the budget has gone from 810M to 756M. The Obama administration is no friend to fundamental research: they would much rather see people working on electric cars and wind power.

    Third, CERN would very much like the US to make a larger contribution to its operating costs, and the agreement is up for renegotiation. This could be a bigger bite.

    So, yes, the field is shrinking. Strong groups, and especially strong individual investigators, though, have been doing well. Perhaps even better than at any time in the recent past. Weak groups, and especially weak individuals, are doing poorly.
     
  5. Oct 7, 2012 #4

    ktb

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    Can't speak for BNL, but JLAB definitely has HEP experiments, or will in the near future after their upgrade. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GlueX
     
  6. Oct 7, 2012 #5

    ktb

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    I'm starting to think that I should branch out and explore other areas of physics before it's too late. However, I'm enjoying the work I'm doing with the group and they always have plenty for me to do.
     
  7. Oct 7, 2012 #6

    ZapperZ

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    This is where the term "HEP" and "nuclear physics" need to be defined. The accelerator you cited is actually a "nuclear physics" facility. The fact that it may do particle collision, etc. means nothing (RHIC is a nuclear physics facility even though it collides particles). Look at the funding source in this case. It is being funded out of the DOE's Nuclear physics division, not the HEP division. JLab is predominantly a nuclear physics lab.

    BNL is a multi-purpose lab. It has large components consisting of RHIC and NSLS/NSLS II. But it is still a multi-purpose lab. It certainly has a HEP component that are active with LHC.

    Zz.
     
  8. Oct 9, 2012 #7
    I don't know what's happening elsewhere, but at my grad school, far more students are aiming for PhDs in condensed matter than in HEP or string theory.
     
  9. Oct 10, 2012 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    But CM is a much bigger field. The OP asked about the derivative, not the magnitude.
     
  10. Oct 20, 2012 #9
    As an experimental physicist at Brookhaven Lab who has worked on experiments
    both at RHIC and at CERN (LHC, SPS), I reluctantly advise you not to go into this
    field unless you are willing to make that huge leap of faith. The budgets in the US
    continue to shrink, and I don't see champions of fundamental HEP or Nuclear Physics
    in either political party. Given the dire government financial situation, these fields are easier
    to cut than say food stamps, as a recently US congressional delegation to CERN stated.
    That delegation stated flatly they were surprised that the US physicists were even
    contemplating participation in an electron-positron linear collider (ILC or CLIC) as a follow-up to the LHC.

    If you do love physics, I'd recomment chosing a sub-field in which it is easier to transfer
    to private industry should things not work out. Good luck on your decision.
     
  11. Oct 21, 2012 #10

    ZapperZ

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    Valuable first-hand advice from Dphys there that everyone who is contemplating a career in HEP/Nuclear Physics in the US should pay attention to. I definitely concur with that statement based on what I have seen on the funding situation out of DOE for these two fields.

    The purpose here is not to discourage anyone from pursuing such a field, but rather, to let you know what the reality is BEFORE you make a decision. At the very least, if you chose to go into such fields, you are going in with your eyes wide open and NOT under some delusion about the state of employment in those fields.

    Zz.
     
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