Tag Archives: cern

Of puppies and particles

Wonderful slides

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

And you could have thought I was the only tech/design blogger somehow also talking up both puppies and hadron colliders. Well I am but a rank amateur. Matt Webb weaves together both, in the most moving post on sub-atomic physics you are likely ever to read. Meant to post this link a while back.

Suddenly he would leap to his feet and trot, tail wagging, a few paces before hurling himself at the carpet, twisting as he did so to roll and throw himself around and generally have a good old time right there in the hall. What was it Indigo, hey? What did you see, did you see a ghost who said -Come play? Why that moment, hey boy? Just as quickly he would stand and shake himself down, and come back to his spot near the kitchen where I could see him and he could see me, and I’d be laughing. Where did it come from, that abrupt desire for play? How come that exact second for decanting some of the internal flywheel into rolling about with his belly in the air and legs waving? It reassured me that I couldn’t see any cause, that it was something inside. It meant Indigo had his own internal life, and so I could love him more.

I was 10 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 3 days old the day they activated the Large Hadron Collider. I was at college in a lecture the day I found out they’d found the Higgs boson, which gives particles mass. Mass gives momentum, and momentum is what keeps you moving. The Higgs is where it comes from:

the universe is a house, and you’re a particle – let’s say a proton – and the house is packed full of ghosts, from wall to wall like a carpet…”

I last met Matt (one half of Schulze and Webb) at Reboot9 (pictured).

To bring the story full circle with the most recent news: Silver is turning out a wonderfully precocious pup, only 12 weeks old now already fetching her first Frisbees, and though among the youngest, miles ahead of her puppy school class. Brains, energy and it looks like we’ll have our hands full with this frisky dingo. The LHC, unfortunately, had a problem and is down for maintenance for several months. We hope to see it up and chasing subatomic frisbees again soon.

LHC and the end of the universe

So they fired up the Large Hadron Collider today, the gigantic particle accelerator 150m deep beneath a not-small chunk of Switzerland and France. Despite some people’s expectations, and as no-doubt a great disappointment to the media, the world and the planet did not explode out of existence. Last I checked anyhoo.

There, was however the possibility of it. At least in theory, sort of. The possibility that a particle collision could trigger a chain reaction inadvertently hitting the “delete” key on all matter in the planet/universe. Like a black hole version of ice9.

Being, to a fault, precise people by nature, the best the good physicists at Cern would admit is that such a reaction was “very unlikely”. Much to their consternation, a lot of lay-people didn’t seem to find comfort in what a proper physicist would wryly explain as “very unlikely”.

If you are wondering, here’s how our guide explained it to us. The sun every second produces a gidgiazoolian (I forget the exact unit) times more high energy particles than CERN ever will in it’s lifetime. Every second these solar particles are slamming into, for example, objects the size of the moon. And in the 4.5 billion years the sun has been doing that, no catastrophic universe-destroying reaction has occurred. Empirically, this evidence suggests that the existence of the universe is reasonably pretty and reasonably resistant to accidental self destruction. The logic then follows that most probability one more particle beam won’t tip the probability scales over the edge. Hence what a physicist means by “very unlikely”.

Why is the LHC so cool? It’s basically a giant race track for tiny subatomic particles that scientists can use to study and drill into the very heart of matter. Particle experiments have been going on for a long time at CERN, the LHC is just the latest and largest accelerator to be built there.

As a researcher you can go to CERN and rent “beam time” small or large portions of the accelerator to do all kinds of experiments. For example there is some cool work being done there to study how solar radiation on cloud formation affects cloud formation climate change on earth.

And then there are the big questions, to find out the universe is really made of and to enhance our fundamental understanding of physics.

Sez the super awesome Brian Cox, for one thing if the theories are right, and Higgs Boson is really the particle that gives mass to all matter in the universe, then the LHC will find it.

Thanks btw to Laurent and Lift over the years for the chance to learn about and visit the LHC. Truly inspiring!