Surely you are joking Mr Florez!
I was sitting on the airplane from the US to Brussels. There was a technical problem and the monitors for the TV don’t work. It had been an hour already and people started getting impatient, and with all reason. It was late and we hadn’t eaten! A child started to cry, which made things even more tense. Suddenly, the lady sitting right next to me introduced herself. She was about 60 years old and had a strong accent. I asked her where she was originally from and she responded, Israel. I introduced myself and we started the normal conversation that two bored people usually have in a airplane. She looked at me and ask me, “So, Mr Florez what do you do?” I told her that I am a Ph. D student in Particle Physics. Then she asked me my most feared question…oh what is that about?
I smiled and gently tried to explain to her the basic idea. She smiled and with interest asked me, “How are you going to use this LHC that you are telling me about? What is the practical application of it for the society?” I took a deep breath and told her I have to be honest — in terms of practical application in the short term, nothing! She laughed hard and said, “Surely you are joking Mr Florez.” Then, I remembered Feynman’s book and smiled!
At that moment I thought that is interesting how people expect a material reward from every job. Probably, it is something natural in our common sense. I told her that, as scientist, I am curious about the world and the universe around me. I want to know the basic principles of nature to get an idea of how this universe works–not necessarily to apply that knowledge to build something to satisfy or solve a need of humanity. If it happens, it’s an extra reward. But, does that mean that I am selfish person? I am a student and I have been able to learn so much from other scientists. I must say that without their guidance I couldn’t have made much progress in my profession. Science has done amazing things for humanity and great scientific inventions have improved our lives. For instance, the beloved World Wide Web was invented at CERN, the laboratory where the LHC is being build.
I might say that thanks to the studies in particle physics, we have thousands of professionals with great skills in physics, programming, electronics and other areas. Right now, future generations of scientist (including me) are being educated and surely will bring development and science to our countries. Probably we can find amazing things that we will apply in technology in the future. But, for now, this is not the main goal of our experiment. We just want to understand why we are here and how this universe works!
Finally the plane is ready to leave. But, a half hour later, when they tried to play the movie, the TV’s didn’t work….it was a long flight without movies. Very sad…….