Thursday, September 11, 2008

The hype around the large hadron collider (LHC)

The 10th of September 2008 was a great day for a handful of scientists and a “so what?” day for the rest of us.

The 2,000+ eggheads at CERN (French acronym for European Organization for Nuclear Research) had the day of their lives – watching a collision of particles. Sounds like boys playing with toys to me…….do you guys ever outgrow this fascination with banging objects together with full force?

The particles were not up to speed yesterday, which is pretty shoddy if you ask me, and it also took all the fun out of it. Needless to say, the lack of speed was my main concern in life - way before potential terror attacks, the US and local elections, and the state of the economy. So it’s good to know that those two beamy things will still crash into one another at high-speed pretty soon. Nascar and Red Bull race fans (and other speed devils) will be relieved.

I am a lawyer (don’t hold that against me), not a physicist, so the famous CERN institute was only known to me from one of those wishy-washy Dan Brown’s novels. (Don’t ask me which one, they all read the same – I just vaguely remember a super plane flying to CERN. I was mainly wondering at the time if the passengers on it got more frequent flyers miles and better airplane food than I do on my European flights).

CERN describes its collider thingy as “a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. (Area 51 anyone?) It is a particle accelerator (just in case you want to know) used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionize our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.”

Well, that’s just dandy. The majority of us are still trying to understand the meaning of our own little lives. For the Mysteries of the Universe, I refer to my beloved SF series - characters like the Vulcans, Ferengi and Minbari make a heck more sense than many of the carbon-based life forms (especially homo sapiens) populating this planet.

Our dear scientists are looking for the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle dubbed "the God particle". OK, so we are spending millions on finding a particle that only exists in theory. Guys, newsflash, Lara Croft in the "Cradle of Life" already beat you to it!

What the technies at CERN try to do is to have two beams of 'hadrons' (not be confused with the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who had a Wall named after him) traveling in opposite directions inside a circular accelerator. You get it: the result is “boom”. This is supposed to represent the Big Bang. Clever citizens remarked that this would create a black hole, and were we all not taught (by the same eggheads) that black holes are Bad? However, don’t worry or check your insurance policy yet - we were assured that such a black hole will be:
1) tiny
2) only last a nano-nano-nano-second
3) evaporate
Mmmm, are these the same guys that told us in the past that nuclear energy is really, really, really safe?

I am not a scientist, but one thing I can tell you for sure – LHC itself is a black hole of the worse kind – the one where budgets and funding keep on disappearing into ….The only positive outcome I foresee in the near future is a bunch of Nobel Prize winners. Yes, those guys who are able to prevent us all from being sucked into a black hole of their making will for sure be winners.
Isn’t life deliciously ironic? And I didn’t even need a hadron or Higgs boson to figure that one out!.