• Question: How does your work help our planet? Does it help our planet?

    Asked by anonymous to Steve, Emma, Christian, Bose, Alice on 9 Mar 2016. This question was also asked by #Holly.
    • Photo: Emma Dean

      Emma Dean answered on 9 Mar 2016:

      I don’t think there is an obvious direct link between my work and helping the planet. However, the work I do aids our understanding of the laws of physics. The better we understand this, the better we can adapt and improve our methods of doing things. Many technological advancements come from physics research. There are medical uses, for example MRI scanners come from nuclear physics. Nuclear physical processes occur on neutron stars. Another example is GPS satellites. Gravitational fields cause time to run slower, so the clocks on our GPS satellites lose time with each other. Without studying gravity we wouldn’t know this and our SatNavs would take us to completely wrong places.

      The beautiful thing about scientific research is you never know what you might discover. Very often there are surprises. When these surprises happen, we don’t always know what to do with them. Did you know that when electricity was discovered no-one knew it had practical applications. Magicians were the only ones who used it for their shows.

    • Photo: Steve Marsden

      Steve Marsden answered on 10 Mar 2016:

      It doesn’t directly, but whenever we’ve pushed forward the boundary of human understanding, we usually don’t know what we’ll find or what effect it could have. For instance, when the electron was discovered, no-one could have foreseen that the knowledge would have been needed in order to make quicker and more efficient computers. Similarly, that quantum mechanics would help make more efficient solar panels.

      What new knowledge we learn from experiments like the LHC, may not be applicable directly to any problem. It may not even be applicable to any problem in our lifetimes. But it may well lead to new developments in the centuries to follow. (In fact I’d be a little confused if it didn’t make a large contribution in the future.)