Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Bang Day

"Particle physics is the unbelievable in pursuit of the unimaginable. To pinpoint the smallest fragments of the universe you have to build the biggest machine in the world. To recreate the first millionths of a second of creation you have to focus energy on an awesome scale." -- The Guardian

"Is that a hadron in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?" -- unknown geek
Wednesday, September 10 is a "big bang day" of sorts. The Large Hadron Collider buried under the Swiss Alps is scheduled to be turned on.

This experiment is one of the most ambitious, expensive, significant and complex in history. So I won't pretend that I understand it all. However, I do understand that this research can unlock some of the biggest mysteries in the universe:

The mountains of data produced will shed light on some of the toughest questions in physics. The origin of mass, the workings of gravity, the existence of extra dimensions and the nature of the 95 per cent of the Universe that cannot be seen will all be examined. Perhaps the biggest prize of all is the “God particle” – the Higgs boson. This was first proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs, of Edinburgh University, as an explanation for why matter has mass, and can thus coalesce to form stars, planets and people. Previous atom-smashers, however, have failed to find it, but because the LHC is so much more powerful, scientists are confident that it will succeed.

Even a failure, however, would be exciting, because that would pose new questions about the laws of nature.

Of course, like all progress, this experiment comes with controversy. A few scientists, most notably Dr. Otto E. Rössler, have expressed serious concerns about the mini black holes that might be created. The LHC Safety Assessment Group says the fears are completely unfounded because nature’s own cosmic rays regularly produce more powerful particle collisions than those planned within the collider. All this drama comes with the inevitable lawsuits.

But hey, all this sounds exciting, so why doesn't the U.S. have its own super collider? Well we almost had a Superconducting Super Collider, but it was canceled by Congress in 1993. One reason given was that we no longer needed to prove the supremacy of American science... go figure?

Anyway, if you believe the end of the world is nigh, then have lots of sex, eat fatty foods, and don't do your homework. Otherwise, follow the experiment live on BBC's Radio 4.

1 comment:

onscrn said...

" A few scientists, most notably Dr. Otto E. Rössler, have expressed serious concerns about the mini black holes that might be created."

You can make that *two* scientists, neither of whom knows what he's talking about. I've written about the anti-LHC push and its supposed experts at Large Hadron Collider: What's the Risk?"