Saturday, September 13, 2008


I'm really excited about the Large Hadron Collider. I really like physics (though the maths is beyond me) whether it is particle physics or astronomy.

I didn't really think that anything very weird was going to happen as a result of the LHC being switched on, but it was certainly an intriguing thought, adding a bit of excitement and mystery to Wednesday. (And what an appropriate day to turn it on, the day of the shamanic poet-god who sacrificed himself to reveal one of the mysteries of the universe.)

I had a quick look at a news item on the BBC website about the LHC, and in the "Have your say" section, there was a comment by some loony claiming that we're not meant to know the secrets of God. What utter tosh. If the creator exists, then it created us how we are and therefore endowed us with curiosity and would want us to discover stuff. Of course there is no supernatural creator because consciousness is an emergent property of matter (unless our universe was born from an LHC in a previous universe, and therefore was created by sentient beings...)

There were other nutters claiming that the LHC is a waste of money. No, sport is a waste of money. Particle physics is massively worthwhile. Apart from the sheer interest of understanding more about how the universe works, all sorts of technology might arise from the knowledge developed at CERN (I mean they already invented the WWW, for goodness' sake, just by having a lot of brainy people and some computers).

It's exciting that they could actually detect the Higgs Boson (in ATLAS or in the CMS), and also recreate the conditions a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, known as the quark-gluon plasma phase (this experiment is in ALICE).

Just after the Big Bang and the quark-gluon plasma phase, there were a billion and one matter particles for every billion anti-matter particles. The billion anti-matter particles cancelled out the billion matter particles, leaving one left over, and that's why (it is hypothesised) we live in a universe of mostly matter. According to the LHCb website, "LHCb is an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the Universe we inhabit today."

I don't really understand what TOTEM is for - "Total Cross Section, Elastic Scattering and Diffraction Dissociation" - but it's something to do with the interaction of particles and photons in collision, and their trajectories when they are scattered after collision. They haven't got a website for interested amateurs. Cool name, though.

The LHCf will investigate the origin of ultra high energy cosmic rays.

The LHC will also allow us to investigate hypotheses about parallel universes, the number of dimensions, the nature of space-time, and maybe even produce a Grand Unified Theory. It's really exciting.


kathz said...

Som sports may be a waste of money but I insist that fencing is not!

I'm trying to follow the physics, especially since I know that a friend is writing the entry for the Large Hadron Collider for the Encyclopedia Britannica (worrying - I thought the Encyclopedia Britannica was beyond human authorship and given by God on a mountain top, with fancy binding provided by specialist angels). I can see it's exciting but I don't get it yet - will perservere.

Yvonne said...

Fencing is not a sport, it's a martial art. Likewise archery.

Ha ha, I like the theory that the EB is divinely revealed, though surely the deity is Apollo and the mountain is Parnassus, and the fancy binding is produced by specialist muses.

feuilleton said...

I try to avoid looking at those BBC comments pages, The Register calls them the Twat-o-tron with good reason.

Nature has a piece about the physical arguments at stake here:

I've followed this stuff for years--I remember when Stephen Hawking could speak without a machine!--so it's less intimidating but still a severe brain-stretcher.

I insist that fencing is hot. Well, it is when it's done by French guys who've lost their clothes. But that's enough about my obsessions...

Yvonne said...

I normally avoid looking at them, don't know what came over me.

Good article, thanks.

I've followed it for a long time too (all part of SF-geekery, n'est-ce pas?)

Of course fencing is hot... That pic you posted on your blog recently was awesome. A perfectly reasonable obsession to have :D