Friday, July 30, 2010


If you are reading this blog I am going to assume that you know what the Large Hadron Collider (read really f-ing big particle accelerator) is. If you don't, well then let me give you the 5 sentence explanation:
The LHC is basically a tube bent into a gigantic ring, 17 miles in circumference to be exact. Lining the walls of this tube are super-cooled, super powerful magnets that use liquid helium to generate very intense magnetic fields. To run the machine you insert protons, which have a positive charge and are thus affected (pushed or pulled) by the magnetic field. The magnets are then turned on in succession, pulsed, speeding the protons to 99.999991% the speed of light (read Wicked Fast!). Two beams of protons are them smashed into each other, breaking them into their subatomic components which are then detected by house sized machines!

Okay, so now that you've got a really great picture in your head lets talk about the reason that we are doing this.
The table above is a breakdown of the most basic particles that make up our universe. The green, called quarks, can gather in multiple formations but most commonly form either neutrons or protons. Below are leptons, the most common name there is the electron, though some might have heard of neutrinos (fascinating little creatures which I will save for another post). Both quarks and leptons share a common title of fermions, i.e. they are particles of matter that have mass and are affected by forces. The column on the right is where things start to get a little spooky. Bosons, as the bar to the right of them implies, are responsible for the forces. They generate 'fields' that fermions interact with. As it stands we are missing one force, the funny thing is, its probably the most obvious force for all humans, gravity.

Now if you are still asking, well what the hell does a Higgs Boson and the LHC have to do with gravity, the answer is everything. Scientists theorize and generally agree that the Higgs Boson is the 'particle' that is responsible for giving mass to all other fermions. Here is a nice little cartoon that illustrates the point decently. Or you can watch the video below for a full blown version (I suggest doing this, awesome vid).

So what does it mean if we discover it? Gizmodo wrote an article a few days ago about this exact subject and while I like Gizmodo I have to say they missed the mark on what it could really mean. Yes if we discover the Higgs particle then we will understand gravity and scientists will be happy, but what people need to understand is what that leads to. Once we understand gravity, we will understand all the forces and particles that form and control atoms. We will know how to manipulate these forces and the particles that are affected by them. I'm sure you realize what I'm getting to...

When we find the Higgs Boson, we are putting ourselves on the path to start building atoms. Piece by piece assembling complex structures that behave in ways we can't even imagine. Think about building a chair that has it's own gravity well, you can sit on it in any orientation and it will hold you. Imagine space stations with articifial gravity on one side of the room, and zero-g on the other. Imagine creating a being by building it, atom by atom. It sounds like we are playing God...

This worries some, and I won't lie, it scares me too. This could be the beginning of the end but it could also be the end of the darkness. With great power comes great responsibility and we need to use knowledge and understanding to guide ourselves. We can illuminate the universe, light up the darkness and begin to harmonize with our surroundings, but it all starts with choice. So lets choose to cooperate, choose to seek knowledge and peace rather than hatred and war. Lets pull ourselves out of the darkness and into the dawn of a new age, where man is at one with his universe and I think we will find that the people, the planet and the universe will respond.

Light shines in the darkness...

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