Doing experiments in particle physics means studying almost infinitely tiny things that few people can understand, let alone appreciate.
But that’s what Nick Solomey is doing this week at Fermilab near Batavia, Ill., outside of Chicago – America’s best-known particle physics laboratory.
He’ll be back to teach physics at Wichita State University soon, but now he’s running experiments, as he’s done for some time now, “accumulating data on neutrinos and anti-neutrinos.”
And thinking deeply about quarks and anti-quarks.
Got that so far? Right.
Think of it this way: Most of us learned in school that humans and all the stuff around us are made up of molecules – and molecules are made up of atoms. So now, think even smaller than that. And then realize that the even-smaller things – electrons, for example – not only exist but interact with each other dynamically. OK, now think about how physicists like Solomey and his many Nobel Prize-winning friends are sure that there is not just “matter,” but anti-matter.
And that’s the sort of thing Solomey and other particle physicists study for us.
Not only is he liking it, but he says particle physics, no matter how obscure or unknown it is to most people, is now a really cool thing to study, including in Kansas.
For example, this week Kansas State announced that it has hired a new faculty member – Ketino “Keti” Kaadze – who’s been working as a research associate at Fermilab, learning about the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle discovered in 2012.
He doesn’t know her, but he does know Mat Muether, whom WSU just hired as an assistant professor. Muether has been at Fermilab for a while now, working, like Solomey, in the neutrino program.
Most people won’t understand this, he knows, and politically, he said, he understands that in his field of education, “politicians like to hear about applied things. But particle physics is looking at the heart of what science is really all about, the basic, underlying realm of what is causing all the higher order effects” that make the universe go round.