Higgs Boson, Science Jobs, and Fourth of July

I don’t think it would have been possible to miss the recent media announcement of the apparent discovery of the subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson by researchers using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, which straddles the borders of Switzerland and France. Some of you may recall that CERN is also where the World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau some years ago.

From what I understand, it is the Higgs field that gives matter its mass. Without the Higgs field, there would be no atoms. If the Higgs boson was indeed found by the CERN researchers, then I think it’s a remarkable situation that will have a tremendous impact on the future of particle physics. Probably not in our lifetime, but in centuries to come.

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I read an interesting article in the July 7th Washington Post by the title “U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there.” It has been my understanding that there is currently a shortage of qualified scientists and researchers in this country. This has certainly been the message I have heard in the media for the past several years.

However, the Washington Post points out that this is not the case. The supply of scientists coming out of our universities and colleges is far outpacing the demand. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry alone has cut some 300,000 jobs since 2000, many of them scientists and researchers in the life sciences.

According to the Post article, in 2011 only 38 percent of new PhD chemists had jobs. While the market for biologists and chemists appears to be in particularly bad shape, physicists and physicians are doing much better, with an unemployment rate of just 1 to 2 percent.

I personally believe that it’s a tragedy that so many well-trained people are unable to do the work they were trained to do. Universities should do a better job pointing students to areas where there are jobs today, and where there will be jobs tomorrow. Students should also do a better job in their own due diligence when they consider what fields of study to pursue.

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I had a relaxing Fourth of July with lunch at the Beach and Tennis Club followed by fireworks at my daughter Mary Ann’s house on Mount Soledad. Unlike the fireworks that prematurely detonated over San Diego Bay, the fireworks over La Jolla Cove went off without a hitch.

— Bob