Monday, March 3, 2008

Physics' Big Headache Or Why Build The LHC

Testing thousands of lead tungstate crystals for ECal. The problem is the Standard Model in Physics which seeks to unify the weak force, the strong force and the electromagnetic force, 3 of the 4 major forces, gravity left out because it has so little effect on the subatomic scale, particle physicists think. Anyway they're obliged to, because gravity refuses to fit in.

What they've got since the 1960's is chunks of theories that seem to work fine as parts of the puzzle, but at the very least other pieces are missing. And if they don't find them, then the Standard Model might be no better than a Ptolemaic theory of sun and planets going around the earth.

The Standard Model is messy too. It's not simple and elegant like Einstein and Newton. It won't give us values for particles. They have to be arrived at through experiments with colliders like the LHC. In the breakthrough Electroweak Theory, uniting both electromagnetism and the weak force, add any value like mass to these equations and they don't work. Then all particles have no mass. And they should all travel at the speed of light. This is the absurd reality of particle physics. But it won a Nobel Prize at CERN, so experimentally confirmed in part. What are we doing then, imagining the Universe? Enough to give any physicist some sleepless nights and a cosmic hangover in the morning.

But physicists cling to the Standard Model because they don't have anything else except stranger theories without a shred of experimental proof. All the Standard Model needs is some improvement, like a new theory to confer mass on particles from the outside. Enter the theoretical Higgs boson. At CERN they're hoping to find it with the LHC, or maybe create a Higgs field from a hadron fireball. Gone are the days of simple atom smashing. CERN actually wants to simulate on a small scale with colossal energies, what conditions were like 13.7 billion years ago, when there must have been a Higgs field, a billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

To do so a stone's throw from the Geneva Airport is taking an incalculable and unnecessary risk.

Who wants a theoretically dangerous anything in your backyard? Maybe if there were some real benefit, but is anyone really the wiser or better off when a $10 billion theory is confirmed or denied, and of interest only to a small group of physicists?

It's about as pointless an exercise as the Tower of Babel. Granted it's way more sexy. Science Porn, Boing Boing calls it.

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