A global vision

Deep in our human nature is the drive to understand the world around us. From stone tools to powerful computers, from the simplest observations of the natural world to today’s advanced science and technology, the exploration and creation of knowledge have drawn us forward and transformed our existence.

Yet even now, with all the advances we have made, we have a dramatic lack of understanding of the basic physical laws that govern our universe. Profound questions, sounding almost theological in nature, both bedevil and inspire us. The answers to at least some of these questions now appear to be on the horizon, as the world of particle physics comes together to make use of the most powerful set of scientific tools ever assembled. Will a grand synthesis emerge, as in the case of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, to resolve all these mysteries in a revolutionary new framework? Or will we encounter yet more fundamental questions behind the ones we know today, beacons to more distant horizons?

The precision operations of the hugely complex detectors built for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland seem almost miraculous when we remember that scientists from institutes in dozens of countries designed, built and contributed the thousands of different detector components. The pieces must fit together perfectly to operate flawlessly, recording the data from tens of millions of particle collisions every second. How can over one hundred institutes and three thousand physicists, spread across the globe, achieve such precision on such a grand scale? How can physicists make the hardfought decisions that determine design and technology choices and then move forward together? Ultimately, a shared and passionate vision is the beacon that draws collaborators together in a common purpose to create a scientific instrument of unprecedented power and precision.

Beacons of Discovery takes the next step in articulating just such a global vision for the future of particle physics. Reaching a grand synthesis or discovering the next set of mysteries will require a spectrum of research approaches in nations around the world. To take us beyond the horizon that we see today, physicists will use accelerators that reach the highest energies and produce new particles directly. They will design accelerators with the most intense beams to study the rare interactions that carry the imprints of worlds beyond our direct reach. And they will use observatories of natural processes deep underground, on the earth’s surface and in space. Achieving a grand synthesis will require all of these technologies. Our worldwide physics community has reached remarkable consensus on how to proceed. Just as a passionate and shared scientific vision brings the detector components together in a beautifully functioning whole, Beacons of Discovery shows how that same passion and vision draw us together in a shared global journey to discover the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space and time.

Pier OdonnePier Oddone
Chair elect, ICFA
Chair, ICFA writing committee

Autumn 2011