Saturday, October 30, 2010

One Hundred Meters under the C.E.R.N.

“Geneva, 30 November 2009. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has today become the world’s highest energy particle accelerator, having accelerated its twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 TeV in the early hours of the morning. This exceeds the previous world record of 0.98 TeV, which had been held by the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron collider since 2001. It marks another important milestone on the road to first physics at the LHC in 2010.”

One-hundred meters below the Franco-Swiss Boarder lies the Large Hadron Collider (LHC): the world’s largest high-energy particle accelerator. Built by La Centre Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) in hopes of proving, or consequently disproving, the existence of the Higgs Boson particle. This particle, predicted to exist by the Standard Model (of particle physics), is to explain the origin of mass; the recreation of conditions following the big bang. The possibilities that stem from this experiment are endless for modern science, but are they the end? This essay will discuss the possible failure or possible success of the LHC and, in both cases argue that although they both have the potential to create great change, modern science will live long and prosper.

In the first hypothesis, the project fails to give answers and as a result the scientific community feels disheartened in their fools errand. Trillions of dollars have been wasted and our reductionist attempts to solve the mystery of life, are far from solvable. The world has seen this before in Waxahachie, Texas with the commissioning of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). After 10 years and 8 billion dollars, the project had it’s funding cut, as the SSC was no longer connected enough to national policy. While the SSC is known to have driven wedges in the scientific community for various political and personal reasons, it certainly did not bring the collapse of modern science as even after this project’s failure, the LHC was still envisioned and constructed. As such, it can be concluded that the SCC’s failure had little impact on future science, and the same should happen if the LHC results in a failure.

Even if the LHC is a much larger and cumbersome project than that of the SSC. As the direct result of the labour of numerous european nations, the LHC has the world’s scientific community awaiting answers. Yet still, if the LHC fails, despite disappointment, science will forge on with further projects on the horizon, all trying to realize our grand narrative. While, the LHC could be seen as a failure, failures allow us to exclude possibilities and are still a step in the direction to scientific progress.

In the second hypothesis, the LHC reveals a secret to us about our creation, our beginning. To recreate the Higgs Bison could have a mass impact on modern science, and be the catalyst to many pending discoveries, and even changes to our approach towards modern science as we know it. However, since the word science encompasses progression through discovery, who is it to say that “modern science” has ended when it has merely changed.

Furthermore, as we get closer to the answers we see the questions to start asking. In an expanding universe of dark matter, black holes and galaxies unknown, it is certain that there is a lot more to learn through scientific exploration. To understand the Higgs Bison is only to gain part of the puzzle, slowly reducing the problem size. However, as we discover more about our world, we have also started to ask questions and the problem does not seems to be reducing in size but growing exponentially larger.

This self-perpetuating cycle of learning more to have more questions is what propels scientific exploration to continue, and will keep science continuing no matter what the result of the Higgs Bison experiment with the LHC. It is when we think about ourselves in the context of the universe, or a multiverse that we understand how infinitely far there is to go in science.

In conclusion, the Hadron Collider is not presenting us with the end of science, but offers potential for a new beginning. No matter what the result, something will be learned by the scientific community and they can change or adapt their science adequately. Science is about experimenting and hypothesizing with an excellent scientific method, the LHC, no matter what the outcome will have positive effects. We are reminded with how far we have to go in science when we see the earth in context of the universe or multiverses. Yet we still too tackle those questions through projects like Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. A satellite to look for gravitational waves and, just like the LHC, hopefully explain more of our complex physical world.

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