Technological spin-offs from High Energy Physics research

The Large hadron Collider at the CERN (Image courtesy: CERN)
The Large hadron Collider at the CERN (Image courtesy: CERN)

There is some good news waiting for the air travellers. They’ll soon be able to walk through airport security without having to separate liquids and gels in their hand baggage. Thanks to the new upgraded computerised tomography (CT) scanners that can detect explosives without going through a separate screening for the liquids and gels.

This discovery was widely publicised and lauded as a lifesaver for both travellers and security staff. But what was less frequently noted in those reports is that this advancement was made feasible due to the insights gained from the development of particle accelerator physics.

The bright and novel concepts and technology of particle physics have penetrated the mainstream of society to revolutionise our lives, from the first days of high energy physics to the recent times.

A broad and rising list of useful practical applications with contributions from particle physics can be seen in medicine, homeland security, industry, computers, science, workforce development etc. Noted below are a few such examples.

 

Medicine:

  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a basic medical diagnostic technique that employs superconducting magnet technology, which was developed by scientists to accelerate protons to the maximum energy possible. Based on nuclear magnetic resonance principles, MRI creates high-quality images of the inside of the human body. Powerful magnets composed of superconducting wire and cable are at the heart of MRI technology. This technique was first created to build Fermilab’s Tevatron, the world’s first superconducting synchrotron, by a team of professionals in superconductivity, physics, engineering, material science, and manufacturing.

 

  • Cancer Therapy: Particle physics technology has resulted in significant advancements in cancer treatment. Accelerators that produce x-rays, protons, neutrons, or heavy ions are used at every major medical centre for illness diagnosis and treatment. Proton therapy, in comparison to x-rays, has significant therapeutic benefits, particularly for young patients. In the 1950s, medical linear accelerators for cancer therapy were developed at Stanford and in the United Kingdom using techniques developed for high-energy physics research. This innovation leads to a new industry and countless lives were saved. According to estimates over 7,000 functioning medical linear accelerators have treated over 30,000,000 people around the world.

Computing: 

  • The World Wide Web: The World Wide Web was created by particle physicists to allow them to connect rapidly and effectively with peers all around the world. Tim Berners-Lee, a CERN scientist, created the World Wide Web to allow particle physicists to interact seamlessly with colleagues at universities and laboratories all around the world. This breakthrough has a massive impact on the global economy and societal ties that few other innovations can equal.

 

  • The Grid Computing: Particle physics experiments generate massive volumes of data, which necessitates the use of cutting-edge computing equipment. The Grid is a revolutionary particle physics computing platform that combines the power of hundreds of thousands of separate computing farms to allow physicists to manage and process unprecedented volumes of data around the globe. Medicine and finance are two examples of industries that create vast volumes of data and can benefit from improved computing technologies. To process this large volume of data, particle physicists took advantage of the computers located all around the world and build a virtual supercomputer – making it the latest computing machine for the particle physicists

Industry:

  • Biomedicine and drug development: The role of protein in biological processes is paramount. Thus, to find the root cause of diseases we need to identify the responsible protein and understand its structure. This process is the prerequisite for any drug development. The technologies used for particle physics experiments are proving to be of great help in this endeavour of analyzing the protein structure.

 

  • Power Transmission: With the advancement of accelerator technology, significant progress has been made in the area of superconducting materials. Now, these innovations are being applied in the sector of power transmission. The advantage of using superconducting materials over the conventional wire results in transmitting more electricity while keeping the power losses at a minimum.

To summarize, we can say particle accelerator research and development has fuelled innovation for over a century. As a result, applications with huge societal benefits have emerged. A brighter future is on the horizon.

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Contemporary Issues in Journalism and the Importance of Media Training

Journalism is an oft-repeated word and rightfully so! Well, think about the contemporary world sans journalists. Chances are that many things would actually come to a standstill. While we all are aware about fake news, post-truth, paid news and other such evils, it is also a reality that democracy would cease to exist without an active press. It could truly be argued that journalism is the lifeblood of democracy.

Over the past couple of decades though, journalism and journalists have been facing an existential crisis – the crisis of establishing credibility and credence. The corporate bondage of editorial content and the dominance of business interests over the interests of enlightenment and empowerment have practically decimated people’s confidence on free and fair journalism.

Thus, in India and rest of the world, there is an urgent necessity to redraw the contours of what constitutes journalism. This process would require a substantial amount of expertise and innovation. Now, before we go any further into the discussion, let us understand as to what are the major issues afflicting the world of news globally.

  1. Fake News: The word, per se, is an oxymoron. A piece of news can’t be fake and an information that is fake can’t be classified as news. However, the word was popularized by Donald Trump in his run up to the White House. It meant any cooked-up or incorrect news – either intentional or unintentional. Fake news, again, can be classified into misinformation, disinformation and mal information. While misinformation is unintentional, disinformation is intentional. Mal information, on the other hand, albeit being true, is created to cause harm. The popularization of social media has been one of the reasons for the growing significance of fake news as a whole. However, the mainstream media organizations have also goofed up on multiple occasions thereby reducing the trust of the audience on news.
  2. Post-Truth: Post-truth is an interesting phenomenon. In fact, it is more dangerous than fake news. Post-truth creates a situation in which belief systems and emotions become more important than objective facts. In such a scenario, it is difficult to ascertain the difference between news and propaganda. In the quest for increasing popularity, multiple news organizations from across the world have played to their galleries and contributed to post-truth. Needless to say that this also had a disastrous impact on news credibility.
  3. Paid News: Probably the biggest evil in the world of journalism, paid news is a practice where journalists or news organizations accept payments in cash or kind to either provide positive or negative coverage to an issue, person or organization. As bizarre as it may sound, paid news has almost assumed gigantic proportions in India. It kills the very essence of journalism and reduces news to propaganda and falsehood. In fact, renowned scribes Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy did a seminal study on how paid news is becoming a encompassing phenomenon in India.
  4. The Absence of a Viable Revenue Model: News primarily depends on advertisements for its survival. Thus, there exists an unholy domination of marketing content on editorial content across most of the news organizations. The dependence of news on advertisements has had a terrible impact on the objectivity and neutrality factors of journalism. Although crowd funding, paywalls and donations have been experimented with in terms of an alternative revenue model, the results have been far from satisfactory.

In the clamour for organisational growth and increased revenues, journalism has ceased to be a social service in addition to being just a profession. However, is it all bleak? While it seems so from the above discourse, the situation is definitely not beyond repair. There is a need to have a fresh relook at the profession and devise ways to reclaim the position of journalism as the pillar of an accountable nation. As it is, the aspiring and younger journalists can play the biggest role in this desired transformation. Let us look at some possible solutions:

  1. The Pre-Eminence of Ethics: While anybody can be a journalist and one didn’t require any specific education to be a journalist until very recently, contemporary circumstances demand a dedicated media education for aspiring journalists. The advent of newer technologies and the growing demands of the profession has made journalism training compulsory. While imparting training on journalism, media schools and universities need to deliver dedicated modules on journalistic ethics. The students need to be sensitised to the larger purpose of the press and rightfully so.
  2. The Importance of Alternative Media Platforms: In the current context, it is critically important to create a dedicated space for the alternative media platforms. It is important to understand that it is almost impossible for the mainstream media to come out of the clutches of corporate control. Hence, creating independent ventures is the need of the hour. The same can’t happen unless aspiring journalists are taught the basics of media entrepreneurship. A combination of financial viability and social enterprising is required. This training can only happen at a media school or university.
  3. Innovation Is the Key: Given the changing trends of the industry, the aspiring journalists need to emphasize on developing innovative practices to again draw the target audience. This is possible only when they understand the intricacies of the profession. Thus, it is a given that journalism training is the need of the hour. The practical aspect of the profession can be taught only at a media school or university. At a time, when technology is coming to the forefront, the importance of training can’t possibly be emphasized enough.
  4. The Importance of Research in Journalism: At a time when shallow research has become a decided bane in journalism, aspiring journalists need to stress on real research before creating their stories. The theoretical and methodical approaches of research can only be taught at a media school or a university. This is one of the most important reasons as to why media education is extremely important for aspiring and young journalists.

Given the current situation, journalism requires a serious facelift. The onus of giving this facelift is with the younger crop of journalists. The media schools and universities will play an equally important role in the transformation. However, what is required is an astute understanding of what ails the profession and its possible solutions. There is no reason to believe that journalism won’t be able to reclaim its position in the society.

Just in case you find this blog useful and relevant, please make it a point to share it with as many people as you like for them to know the contemporary issues in journalism and understand the importance of media training.