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See Inside June 2007

When Fields Collide

The history of particle cosmology shows that science can benefit from wrenching changes

Particle cosmology, which investigates how the smallest units of matter have determined the shape and fate of the universe, is one of the hottest topics in physics today. In recent years the field has received as much as half a billion dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and NASA. Scientists have made great strides in understanding the high-energy particle interactions that roiled the universe in the first moments of its history and influenced cosmic evolution in the billions of years ?afterward.

The dramatic success of particle cosmology is all the more striking given that this branch of research did not even exist 30 years ago. Before 1975, particle physics and cosmology were treated as separate fields of study (especially in the U.S.), and few scientists considered how discoveries in one specialty could enhance research in the other.

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