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What practical benefit is CERN?

Why on earth are we investing so much in, and getting so excited about, things like CERN? Impressive project, I’m sure, but of what practical benefit is it? Understanding where we came from doesn’t really matter, does it? Why does it matter how many sub-particles and sub-sub-particles we can split neutrons etc. Into? Why not use the money for medical research, climate change research, working out how to feed the planet in the next century etc. Etc.?
David Read from Greater London (Age: 25-34)

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One Response

  1. A number of philosophers would tell you that asking questions about where we came from is a major part of being human, ir. introspective and rational. But if you’d like some more practical benefits, here are a few that have come from particle physics:
    -MRI scanners. Experiments on nuclear spin revealed that different atoms relax different after being in a magnetic field, and now doctors can non-invasively examine the soft tissues of the body.
    -the world wide web was originally designed for swapping particle physics research.
    -radiotherapy used in treating cancer originates from studies of radiation.

    I am sure there are more examples, but for me the most important thing about particle physics and the underlying structure of the universe is that it encourages people to wonder about and study science. Most physics undergrads have an interest in particle physics or cosmology – most go on to do other, more practical things. These abstract questions inspire and enrichen science studies, as well as society as a whole. The view of our existence as arising from a remote chance, and existing on a tiny, insignificant speck in an ever-expanding universe, does give some sense of perspective.

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