Click to enlarge
   
       
 




Technology doesn't sit still while physicists are chasing matter and its forces, a higgs or an extra dimension. In the interplay between theory, experiment, and technology, one is constantly challenging the other. As our understanding of matter progresses, technology advances, too.

Superconducting magnets, for example, are a staple of today's high-energy accelerators, replacing some of the standard magnets of earlier colliders. Electrical current flowing through these magnets encounters virtually no resistance, cutting dramatically the power required to steer a beam of particles as they race close to the speed of light.

The demand to know drives the invention of new devices, like the X-ray free electron laser. Its light is 1,000 times brighter than any source of X-rays now available; its wavelength is as short as atomic distances.

Collider designs evolve in ambitious schemes to penetrate deeper into matter. In the future, one beam of electrons might power another beam, yielding energy levels 10 times higher than those that even the latest accelerators can reach today.

Attaining higher energies is not the only challenge. New accelerators will generate enormous volumes of data — nearly a trillion novels worth of information in a year, in one experiment alone. To cope, scientists are creating a worldwide data grid, with information stored in digital libraries from Amsterdam to Palo Alto. Physicists will be able to retrieve the information no matter where it resides and draw on networked computer resources all over the world.

Such technologies, developed for basic research in particle physics, make their way into our daily lives. Applications abound in fields ranging from medicine and materials science to business and engineering.

Tiny electron accelerators, for example, produce the X-ray beams for highly sensitive, ultrafast scans used in medical diagnosis: to detect early signs of cancer or heart disease.

Superconducting magnets are employed in high-speed magnetically levitated trains and in imaging devices that photograph in detail the functioning of the human brain.

The Web, invented so that particle physicists could exchange data and documents with colleagues around the world, has transformed the way that information is shared and business is done.

Who knows what society will do with the technology now being developed for experiments in particle physics?