Step Aside CERN: There’s a Cheaper Way to Break Open Physics

January 16, 2018
Prof. Gerald Gabrielse

Gerald Gabrielse prepares to replace a cryogenic SQUID - a superconducting quantum interference device - in his lab. [Credit: Alyssa Schukar for Nature]

It’s possible that no one knows the electron as well as physicist Gerald Gabrielse. He once held one in a trap for ten months to measure the size of its internal magnet. When it disappeared, he searched for two days before accepting that it was gone. “You get kind of fond of your particles after a while,” he says.

And Gabrielse has had ample time to become fond of the electron. For more than 30 years, he has been putting sophisticated electromagnetic traps and lasers to work to reveal the particle’s secrets, hoping to find the first hints of what’s beyond the standard model of particle physics — the field’s long-standing, but incomplete, foundational theory. Yet for many of those years, it seemed as if he was working in the shadow of high-energy facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 27-kilometre-circumference, US$5-billion particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. “There was a time in my career when there weren’t very many people doing this kind of thing, and I wondered if it was the right choice,” he says.

Continue reading Gabriel Popkin, "Step aside CERN: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics," Nature 553 (Jan 10, 2018) doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-00106-5