10 October 2017

What has IT ever done for physics?

Yesterweek was IT expo in London; audience was very much data centre, IT types, and IT security types, techies and CEOs, from big established companies to startups.

Opening keynote was given by Professor Brian Cox whose talk was titled "Where IT and physics collide." The word "collision" suggests WLCG? or at least something HEPpy, maybe focusing on the data management, the compute that "discovered the Higgs,"
Higgs not found

- or, with this being also an IT security conference, the security behind WLCG.

Fortunately, he gave a talk about physics. He talked about LIGO, SDSS, colliding black holes, and, because the organisers asked him to, quantum computing. It was a very engaging talk and everyone enjoyed it. But he did not talk about the IT. Without the computation, we would not know what colliding black holes look like.

And without the WLCG computing infrastructure, we would not have found the Higgs boson.

Prof Cox's friend, Prof Jon Butterworth, who is in ATLAS, does mention the computing in his very enjoyable book "Smashing Physics", but only briefly - it's about a page, plus a few remarks about the other stuff it has done. Which is right, they are both physicists and should talk about the exciting physics that is coming from the LHC and from the other gizmos. But big science needs big compute (and, er, big data.) As we know this sort of stuff doesn't just set itself up or run itself, it requires significant investment and effort. And you can't just "get it in the cloud," not on this scale, and even if you could, it would still require investment and effort.

Incidentally, one of the other things they talked about at the conference: some people are trying to engineer a car that will go 1000 mph. It also needs a lot of computer simulation to design it. But where will it drive - not on British roads...