Special Feature: Particle Astrophysics Careers

Lessons learned on the ground--at high-energy particle accelerators and in the minds of leading theorists--are illuminating high-energy events occurring in the sky. Bolstered by improved detector technology, particle physicists look to the stars to study phenomena occurring at energies that terrestrial accelerators can't match. Astrophysicists borrow the tools and approaches of particle physics to understand high-energy phenomena in space.

The result is a new, hybrid field of physics: particle astrophysics (or alternatively, astroparticle physics). "Particle astrophysics does not describe scientific reality but a sociological one: fields of astrophysics on which many particle physicists are working,"says Jean-Pierre Lasota-Hirszowicz, a principal investigator at the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris. In connection with the Science special issue on the subject, ScienceCareers.org profiles two young particle astrophysicists with a focus on their career paths.

Vasiliki Pavlidou, a second-year postdoc at the University of Chicago and the subject of our first profile, uses methods from particle physics to identify--or to try to identify--unknown, persistent gamma ray sources. She is, she says, like a doctor who has to make a diagnosis without performing a physical exam. "You don't get to ask them questions, you don't get to do a blood test; you can only look and try and figure out what's going on," she says. "I don't know of anybody in this field that does not get at least partially disappointed because our research has this unique property of where nothing works at ground state."

Guillaume Dubus, an investigator at the Observatoire de Grenoble and the subject of our second profile, has a foot in each of four different worlds . Dubus works with particle physicists and astrophysicists, and he practices both theoretical and observational astronomy. "It's not very common to do both," Dubus says. "It is hard to get recognitions because observers think you are a theorist, and vice versa." But his approach has its advantages. "I am able to judge if observations make sense or are important in my theoretical work. Because I did theoretical work, I am able to identify things we could observe, then go out to observe them."

Jim Austin is the Editor of Science's Next Wave and ScienceCareers.org.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

DOI: 10.1126/science.caredit.a0700001

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