Stanford physicists funded to pursue ‘tabletop’ physics experiments
Image credit: L.A. Cicero
The history of particle accelerators is one of seemingly constant one-upmanship. Ever since the 1920s, the machines – which spur charged particles to near light speeds before crashing them together – have grown ever larger, more complex and more powerful.
Consider: When the 2-mile-long linear accelerator at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
opened for business in 1966, it could boost electrons to energies of about 19 gigaelectronvolts. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which finished construction in 2008, can boost protons to more than 700 times higher energy levels and resides in a massive elliptical tunnel wide enough to encircle a small town. Future supercolliders being planned by CERN, China and Japan promise to be even more immense and energetic (and also more expensive).
The strategy has paid off handsomely with discoveries that have helped confirm the soundness of the Standard Model
, our current best understanding of how nature’s fundamental forces and subatomic matter interact.
As successful as particle accelerators have been, however, Stanford theorists Savas Dimopoulos
and Peter Graham
are betting that scientific treasures await discovery in the other direction as well. For years, the pair have argued that smaller and less expensive, but more sensitive, instruments could help answer stubborn mysteries in physics that have resisted the efforts of even the largest atom smashers – questions like “What is dark matter?” and “Do extra spatial dimensions exist?”
“Peter and I and our group have been thinking about this for 15 years,” said Dimopoulos, who is the Hamamoto Family Professor at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences
. “We were sort of lonely but very happy because we were exploring new territory all the time and it was a lot of fun. We felt like eternal graduate students.” [Read more.]