What’s trending in physics? PYTHIA makes the TopCites list for the ninth consecutive year

These scientists contributed to PYTHIA. From left: Stefan Prestel (Fermilab), Torbjorn Sjostrand (Lund University), Steve Mrenna (Fermilab).

Yearly trends in popular Google searches, hit songs and top-selling books can tell us a lot about the mood, the interests and the big moments that defined the past year. The annual INSPIRE TopCites list serves a similar purpose within the high-energy physics community. The 2016 INSPIRE TopCites list of the 40 most-cited high-energy physics papers from last year has been released along with a summary of what we can learn from the list. Five Fermilab papers made the list, three of which were authored or co-authored by Computing employees.

The most-cited paper from Fermilab, “PYTHIA 6.4 Physics and Manual,” was co-authored by scientist Steve Mrenna. This 576-page manual about PYTHIA, a program for simulating particle collisions and their byproducts, had 1,233 citations in 2016 and has 8,379 in total. Mrenna collaborated with and continues to work on the program with researchers at Lund University in Sweden and other institutions around the world. After being published in 2006, the paper has made the TopCites list since 2008 and was the second most-cited paper two years in a row.

The paper’s increasing citation count mirrors the wealth of data and analyses coming from the LHC.

“It isn’t the most glamorous type of physics, but PYTHIA is important for analyzing data,” Mrenna said. “That’s why the paper suddenly jumped ahead of string theory papers. The ‘manual’ is really a guide to how we understand particle collisions.”

PYTHIA continues to evolve and is now on version 8 (about 140 updates and a whole computing language different than what was discussed in this paper). After 20 years of working on the project, Mrenna is still excited by the work and the purpose it serves.

“PYTHIA bridges the formal theory and the experiment, enabling the translation of the one into the other,” said Mrenna. “These physics programs help us make the reach from the concrete to the abstract.”

View the full paper.