Friday, February 22, 2008

Scientific Dreams Collide

The construction and testing of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is just about complete and is expected to be cranked up in May. Once in operation, this machine may unlock secrets of the universe scientists have dreamed of understanding ever since their mathematics told them to go to sleep and dream about them. “No more dreaming about Doctor Who,” the Math said, “you must dream about hypothetical particles suggested by me.” Lucky for us, the scientists took Math’s advice. They dreamed about particles so much, they created the Large Hadron Collider so they could actually meet these particles of obsession. It’s similar to what Anthony Michael Hall and that other guy, who we never heard of again, did in the movie Weird Science. Now it looks like those scientists’ dreams will soon come true.

The Large Hadron Collider is a seventeen mile long metal and concrete tube formed in giant circle. It is located underground spanning the border of France and Switzerland. The bond this device creates surgically connects France and Switzerland. With this collider, I thee wed. This is bad news for the people of Switzerland. The next time France gets their ass kicked in a war, the Swiss are going down with them. There is no waving the flag of neutrality when you are connected at the hip by a super collider. Just ask Paul McCartney.

Basically, what the LHC does is smash things. We haven’t come a very long way from the cave man days. Smashing things then, as it is now, was the primary method for discovery. “Groc wonder what in walnut shell.” SMASH! “A walnut.” “Groc wonder what inside egg.” SMASH! “Goo taste good.” “Groc wonder why Drok is such jerk.” SMASH! “Him dead now, him not jerk no more.” The only difference is that now we are smashing considerably smaller things.

Here is how it works. They take Hadron, who is the Half-Giant character from the Harry Potter stories, and launch him around the seventeen mile tube. (Hey, JK Rowling can’t write for ever. The guy needs some other source of income). With each pass he picks up more speed. Once he gets close to the speed of light (don’t worry, his mass won’t convert into energy at that speed because he wears safety goggles), they shoot a beam of sub-atomic particles, some of which are bread crumbs collected from the CERN (Council European for Research Nuclear where the LHC lives) cafeteria, in the opposite direction around the tube. Theoretically, Hadron will collide, eventually, with a bread crumb or maybe a proton. This collision will produce other sub-atomic particles that will be detected by a giant refrigerator magnet. The magnet is wired to computers on which the scientists will be playing Pac Man. They will be able to tell what kinds of particles were emitted by the color of the ghosts that emerge from the middle of the Pac Man playing screen.

The LHC’s primary objective is to find the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson is a hypothetical particle scientists believe explains why matter has mass. This is a key element in determining why the W and Z bosons are lard asses, while photons remain is such good shape. It ties all of their loose ended theories together, including the conspiracy theories of JFK, the holy grail and why Jim Belushi got his own show . If you want to learn more about this, I suggest you watch PBS until Nova comes on. And then tell me. The point is, scientists cannot actually prove their theory about mass until they can capture the elusive Higgs Boson and interrogate it under a hot lamp. And maybe poke it with a stick.

As it turns out, they built the LHC for nothing. I happen to have gazillions of Higgs Bosons living in my house. In fact, they’ve overrun the place.

Years ago, I was at a garage sale at the home of Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. I was a wide-eyed college lad. He was trying to clear out some of his old stuff so he could fit a bubble hockey game in his basement. I thought I’d buy some of his drawings, if he had any for sale. We struck up a conversation that led to him telling me about his travels to Brazil. Before I knew it, we were jamming together, he on the frigideira and me on the pandeiro. We were laughing and hugging and giving each other noogies. Before I left he told me he wanted to give me something. He ran inside the house. I grabbed a few of his drawings and shoved them down my pants. He came back with a cardboard box with a big red question mark painted on it. He gave it to me and told me not to open in it until I got home. We played one more song (Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant), and I was on my way. I never opened the box when I got home. Charles in Charge was on TV, so I threw the box in the garage and forgot about it.

As I’ve moved to different places throughout my life, I brought the box with me, never thinking to open it. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, while I was looking through the back of my closet for yarn, when I came across the box and decided to open it. When I lifted the lid, a single Higgs Boson peaked over the rim and looked around. It ignored me and yelled back inside the box, “All clear!” All of a sudden immeasurable amounts of other Higgs Bosons poured out of the box and scattered all over the house – and they kept coming. As you may know, Higgs Bosons decay into other particles pretty quickly, but that hasn’t stopped them from commandeering my house. As soon as one decays, there is another one to take its place and continue doing what the other one was doing. It’s like they’ve been trained by army ants. For example, one of them started to make a liver sausage and honey omelet. That one never lived long enough to eat it. Fifty million other bosons teamed up to finish cooking it and twenty million others ate it. And none of them cleaned up. They’ve ripped off the lid of the box and bolted it to the floor. I can’t get rid of them. And they keep coming.

I’ve learned to live with their disregard for me and their maniacal living style. To tell you the truth, it’s not much different than my normal swinging bachelor lifestyle, if you don’t count the wild parties, naked women, drugs and Mah Jongg tournaments they have.

In the interest of science I stopped one of them the other day and asked it, “Why does matter have mass and what role in it do you play?” It replied, “If it was up your ass, you’d know.” And then it decayed, leaving its cigarette burning on my couch.

If it was up my ass, I'd know. Very profound. I can see why the scientists are looking for such a remarkable particle. So I decided to call the smart people at CERN and tell them to look in their asses for the answer to their dreams. But the Higgs Bosons destroyed my phone, and part of my ear, when I tried to make the call. I think the people who created the LHC are better off not knowing for now. They’ll find out soon enough.


HR said...

Just to throw another theme into all that: "Physicists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are using the same methods to search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle and to digitally restore audio recordings from the past. Berkeley Lab signed an agreement with the Library of Congress to digitize the many thousands of early blues or jazz recordings it has in its archives. And the results are spectacular."
You can listen to samples there...

Thanks for the geek out.

keysunset said...

I love the way pop culture and science combine to create the explosion of new knowledge! Boom, baby, BOOM!

eh, Thanks for the double geek out, MR & HR.

More samples here:

gina said...

Has your neighbor come over to borrow a cup of bosons yet?

ll said...

I can't believe you didn't go for the obious joke on this one and call it the "Large Hard-on Collider".

I'm so disappointed... :(