The Large Hadron Collider, the French atom-smashing mini black hole machine of some fame, is in the news again as they approach a significant benchmark for collisions and data collection. An announcement is expected this year on the search for the Higgs Boson, more commonly referred to as the “God Particle”.
Unfortunately, this feature chose to bury the interesting science in an article bemoaning the US role in the science at the LHC, despite our contributions being similar to other leaders such as Russia and China. It goes on to cite other unflattering but well-circulated statistics ranking the US science program.
I’m not suggesting there is not a need for a strong national science and math initiative, but the science at LHC has always been an international collaboration. Unlike the space and arms race, duplicating the colossal 17-mile atom smasher here for sake of having it here does not forward our national science status. I believe if you read further into the closures / cancellations of similar facilities here you will find high cost at the heart of the stories.
Time to check some really old math, again. More than a hundred years of well-proven science assume just a few things are perfectly constant; Newton’s gravitational constant and the velocity of light are on the short list. Our most treasured theories (think: everything since Einstein’s Relativity) are based on them.
These fundamental laws of physics have been called into question a number of times since, as have the theories based on them. Even Einstein revised his work based on observations in the universe that begged closer scrutiny, like Red Shift. These second glances, in turn, have also been called into question as scientists work towards a utopian grand unified theory of physics that, one day, will explain the questions our founding theories did not answer.
Most recently, particle experiments at CERN may challenge what we know about the “constant” velocity of light. CERN scientists are welcoming close scrutiny of this recent observation, which clocks neutrinos breaking the law. Here are some links to more on the subject.
In case you missed it, here is a spot of cool science news.
The AMS02 – “alpha magnetic spectrometer” launched on board the space shuttle discovery mission STS-134. Among its many lofty goals once operational on the ISS are answers to mysteries around dark matter, dark energy and cosmic rays. Such science could reshape what we think we know about how galaxies form and the big bang theory itself. Furthermore, the cosmic ray data collected will be critical to any future manned flights to Mars.
Here are links to more info, including this youtube spot from ESA about the mission.
Beware: The French have powered on the doomsday machine.
The Large Hadron Collider at CERN has weathered several such search-engine-friendly media sound bytes, and is no stranger to the woes of sensationalism in science. Leading up to it’s first months of successful science, the 17 mile long atom smashing black hole factory buried beneath the French-Swiss border enjoyed much infamy in the press. Yet once scientists assured us that there was no threat to our safety, we changed the channel.
Science and sensationalism have never mixed, as science does not progress in media friendly “ah ha” moments. And while individually we are intelligent enough, as a consumer horde of rapid fire media bits we can be quite moronic. In a day when entire political movements can be summed up in as few as one word (or scream) in a 60 second news summary, our information diet becomes very low on substance. Where’s the beef?
Thankfully in this case science progresses with or without sustained public interest. The LHC completed a successful year with experiments up to about half the planned power range of the device, up to smashing lead ions. It should reach full power (around 14 TeV) in the next two years. And while we’ve no god particle or mini black hole sightings, particle science advances.
The payoff? Among the many goals of the international teams at CERN are answers to key gaps in the generally accepted “Standard Model” of physics, not the least of which are mysteries about gravity unanswered since Newton was presumably bonked by an apple.
For now, expect the LHC work to continue quietly, that is unless the Higgs Boson bears resemblance to any well-known rock stars.
Below is a link to more on the subject, from CERN.