From the earliest days of high-energy physics in the 1930s to the latest 21st-century experiments, the bold and innovative ideas and technologies of particle physics have entered the mainstream of society to transform the way we live.
CASE STUDY: Particle physics and medical imaging
The time is the mid-1970s, and the medical profession has come up with a new concept for imaging brain metabolism. The idea sounds like science fiction: by arranging for antimatter to annihilate harmlessly in the body, producing photons detectable outside the body, doctors could trace brain function with a precision never before imaginable. How to turn this dream into reality? Step forward the particle physics community.
Detecting photons is all in a day’s work for particle physicists, so it was natural for the two communities to team up to produce some of the first positron emission tomography, or PET, scanners. A collaboration between CERN and Geneva’s University Hospital did just that, delivering a new diagnostic tool to the hospital while also developing powerful research techniques.
Fast forward one decade. A new generation of particle physics experiments develops a new generation of photon detectors, building on the work of academia and industry. These “scintillating crystals” have spurred advances in particle physics. And a new generation of PET scanners.
Take another 10-year leap. Scintillating crystal technology is still advancing, but more importantly a big collaboration preparing for physics at the LHC decides to use crystals inside a powerful magnetic field. The requisite electronics do not exist, so the collaboration teams