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Okay, so I just read through huge sections of, which I found quite interesting. There are some questions that really came to my mind.

Do a lot of particle physicists use windows computers? (relative to other physicists?) And why? In most other academic departments, the professors seem to gravitate towards Linux/MACs. But Watts writes a lot of his programs for Windows only, which shows that there's definitely a lot of people who use it there.

Does particle physics research always stall until we get the sexiest new supercollider? (like, is it pretty much stalled until CERN starts putting out substantial output?) We haven't heard of anything from particle physics for quite some time (of course, we will soon, from CERN). But from the likes of particle physics blogs, I'm just getting the impression that everyone is talking about what's possible, rather than what results came out. It seems that condensed matter physics, biophysics, and astrophysics are the fields that are getting the most press.

If you're an experimental particle physicist, does that mean that you just use computational techniques to reduce/analyze the data now? In other words, could you be an experimental physicist without even knowing how to use laboratory apparatus? (just like how you can be an astrophysicist without knowing how to use a telescope these days).


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closed as not a real question by Tobias Kienzler, Kostya, gigacyan, Moshe, QGR Feb 10 '11 at 14:09

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Particle physics is not just collider experiments (and the collider world is not just Fermi and LHC), it's atmospheric, reactor, and beam neutrinos. It's ultra-high energy cosmic rays, it proton decay and neutrinoless double beta decay and direct dark matter searches. Plus input from astrophysics and cosmology. We keep busy. – dmckee Feb 10 '11 at 19:13
This seems to be, at most, a rhetorical question made for making fun! – Philosophiæ Naturalis Dec 15 '15 at 12:05
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Physics departments in the U.S. - and elsewhere - use lots of Linux computers and other Unix flavors, including Solaris, and this gets inherited by the particle physics community, too. It has various image and ideological causes but they're not the topic to be discussed on this server. Obviously, many people use Windows and some people use Macs as well. That's true in any community.

Physicists who are genuinely compatible and deal with lots of data clearly can't have any problems to communicate with someone who uses a widespread operating system such as Windows. If I take my estimated statistics of the talks I have organized in a few years, most of them use Windows laptops, 1/4 uses Linux, and 1/4 uses Macs. That's my estimate. A significant fraction likes to have several operating systems on their computer.

Obviously, experimental particle physics depends on large experiments, and they take a lot of time to be built and started. So there are slow waves of the activity. The physicists may only take new exciting data when the data are available: I would believe that this tautological statement doesn't have to be explained even though this is what you seem to be asking.

However, experimenters are doing a lot of work when they prepare and plan new experiments or evaluate the data that were collected years ago. So there's always some work. Moreover, theorists are largely independent of the collider "cycle". The more theoretical or formal a particle physicist is, the more his or her research is independent of the particular phase of the collider "cycle".

Most particle physicists are linked to experiments such as those at CERN and Fermilab, so they obviously don't make their particle physics experiment in their garage or living room. The colliders need extremely powerful computers to evaluate the data. At the top capacity, the LHC (1) will produce 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) of data per year. This has to be transmitted and evaluated by the "grid" etc. Obviously, questions about the user interface are not the primary questions here. It's the very immense amount of information that is the main problem.

Yes, I think that one can be an experimental particle physicist without any real experience with "tabletop experiments", but in that case, he or she can only do certain jobs - which are still needed but they don't cover anything. There have to be lots of experimental physicists who know how to create and run small apparata which become parts of detectors etc. However, teams such as one at CERN include something like 10,000 physicists so be sure that the roles are divided.

I don't think that condensed matter physics, biophysics, and astrophysics receive "most press". Well, there are many new cosmic objects someone may see, so they of course produce a larger number of "topics" but each discovery generates a much smaller feedback than the corresponding advances in particle physics. On the contrary, I think that all those low-energy fields realize that particle physics is the top discipline of physics which is why some of them try to sell their research by (sometimes bogus or exaggerated) relationships with particle physics. So you may sometimes read articles such as "graphene may uncover the secrets of the Higgs",

In practice, the opposite articles don't exist because everyone knows that the low-energy physics questions are the more mundane ones.

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@Lubos-"I think that all those low-energy fields realize that particle physics is the top discipline of physics which is why some of them try to sell their research..."--lol – Gordon Mar 28 '11 at 23:09

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