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The Future of Physics

As of 2004, research in physics is progressing on a large number of fronts. 

In condensed matter physics, the biggest unsolved theoretical problem is the explanation for high-temperature superconductivity. Strong efforts, largely experimental, are being put into making workable spintronics and quantum computers.

In particle physics, the first pieces of experimental evidence for physics beyond the Standard Model have begun to appear. Foremost amongst this are indications that neutrinos have non-zero mass. These experimental results appear to have solved the long-standing solar neutrino problem in solar physics. The physics of massive neutrinos is currently an area of active theoretical and experimental research. In the next several years, particle accelerators will begin probing energy scales in the TeV range, in which experimentalists are hoping to find evidence for the Higgs boson and supersymmetric particles.

Theoretical attempts to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity into a single theory of quantum gravity, a program ongoing for over half a century, have not yet borne fruit. The current leading candidates are M-theory, superstring theory and loop quantum gravity.

Many astronomical phenomena have yet to be explained, including the existence of ultra-high energy cosmic rays and the anomalous rotation rates of galaxies. Theories that have been proposed to resolve these problems include doubly-special relativity, modified Newtonian dynamics, and the existence of dark matter. In addition, the cosmological predictions of the last several decades have been contradicted by recent evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

In the rush to solve high-energy, quantum, and astronomical physics, quite a bit of everyday physics (sometimes called quotidian physics by persons not working on such problems) was left behind between circa 1930 and 1970. Complex problems that seem like they could be solved by a clever application of dynamics and mechanics, like the formation of sandpiles, nodes in trickling water, the shape of water droplets, mechanisms of surface tension catastrophes, or self-sorting in shaken heterogeneous collections, still remain insufficiently characterized, and more importantly, poorly understood.

These complex phenomena have received growing attention since the 1970s for several reasons, not least of which has been the availability of modern mathematical methods and computers which enabled complex systems to be modeled in new ways. The interdisciplinary relevance of complex physics has also increased, as exemplified by the study of turbulence in aerodynamics or the observation of pattern formation in biological systems. A quote famous for its prophetic accuracy is due to Horace Lamb (1932): "I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic."

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