On the LHC, the End of the World, Bad Fiction, and a lonely field in Waxahachie

Well, tomorrow they fire up the big guns!

The new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes on line for its first big run.  It will not be a full power run — those are planned for the end of the month.  Still, there ought to be some good particle smashing going on!

For those who don’t know, colliders are large machines (in this case, a ring 17-miles long under the Franco-Swiss border), in which various subatomic particles circle around at speeds near the speed of light until they are smashed into each other.  The resulting debris from the collision are then analyzed to help figure out stuff about how the subatomic particles are designed, what properties they have, and what laws they obey.  This accelerator, in particular, is important, because it will be one of the first (that I know of, at least) to reach energy levels up to 14 TeV (if I am wrong, surely someone will be kind enough to correct me; the Internet is nice that way….  The object will be to explore subatomic particles at energy levels approaching what is theorized to have existed at times earlier to the Big Bang.

Without, of course, destroying the world in the process.  Some have e-mailed me (and they have my thanks!) about various articles on the news websites out there (e.g., Time, the BBC) highlighting the alarm that some groups are sounding over fears that the LHC will create mini black holes that will be more stable than predicted and which will eventually grow to destroy the earth and possibly the entire galaxy.  Ah — France’s fantasy will finally come true, as it surpasses the U.S. and U.K. in global stature!  Even galactic stature!

More seriously, the concerns about the end of the world are exaggerated, but they are sincerely felt by some groups.  The Times article, “Collider Triggers End-of-World Fears,” links to some such groups (e.g., here; and here is another with a fanciful little movie — as usual when you leave here, let the surfer beware).

The end of the world is coming, but thankfully it will be brought by a glorified Jesus Christ rather than an earth-gobbling black hole — cheers, for Rev. 11:15!  (Read about it here: Fourteen Signs Announcing Christ’s Return.)

Still, maybe there is a black hole mentioned in prophecy that I have missed (despite the well-meaning speculation of some about Jude 13) — perhaps in the book of Hezekiah, or the books of 1 Paul or 2 Paul.  (Yes, that’s supposed to be funny.)  (Yes, if someone has to tell you it’s supposed to be funny, it probably isn’t.)

While I am not concerned that the world will end tomorrow — or at the end of the month, when the LHC really turns up the heat — I have enjoyed reading about it.  The Wikipedia entry on the collider is educational.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the LHC’s contributions to testing both the standard model, which these days seems to rest on the assumed existence of the Higgs boson, and some predictions of string theory.

It seems appropriate at this time to fess up to a geeky moment from high school.  (Though, I figure most of you would be surprised that I had any geeky moments, given how suave and non-geeky I now appear.  And, yes, you are allowed to laugh aloud at that statement.)

In one of my English classes — junior or senior year, I am not sure — we were assigned to write a science-fiction short story.  Mine focused on a brilliant physicist who had discovers a “Theory of Everything” based on data gathered by the largest collider ever built.  The collider, itself, was a feature of the story, as it was an enormous ring that circled the earth above the atmosphere (obviously made of futuristic materials–it is science-fiction, right?).  The physicist discovers a beautiful, simple equation that neatly sums up his discovery and, as some time passes, what becomes called “The Equation” takes on religious significance and is adopted by the Catholic Church for its own purposes.  Eventually, the physicist, older and now (in a plot element lacking both subtlety and originality) wheelchair bound in the same manner as Stephen Hawking is today, devotes the remainder of his life to disproving his own theory, which he eventually does, wreaking havoc on the credibility of those religious organizations who had too quickly embraced The Equation.

I know: Keep your day job, Smith.  I freely admit that it was not the most exciting tale, to be sure, and some elements make me groan even now as I think about it, more than 20 years later.  (In fact, here comes another one: >groan<.)  Still, any story with something called “The Equation” in capitalized fashion has to be pretty cool, right?  Right?

Oh, well.  At least I got an A. 🙂

And finally, speaking as a Texan, let me request a humble moment of silence in memory of the Texas Superconducting Super Collider (SSC).  At 54 miles around, the SSC would have been more than three times the length of the LHC, would have smashed particles at a whopping 40 TeV compared to the LHC’s relatively puny 14 TeV, and was being built in Waxahachie very near my hometown.  When it was cancelled in the early 90s, the economy in that area suffered a good bit.

I remember hearing about the SSC plans when I was in high school and when I began teaching one of my students even interned there after his graduation while it was under construction.  it would have been the crown jewel of particle research — right there in the Lone Star State.  Alas, it was not to be.  Everything truly is bigger in Texas — only sometimes, it’s too big for reality.

Tip of the ten gallon hat to you, France.

One thought on “On the LHC, the End of the World, Bad Fiction, and a lonely field in Waxahachie

  1. The projected $12 billion for the SSC is less than two years revenue for the MGM Mirage. The private sector is better funded. Don’t know who would pursue building a collider since private industry is just now getting excited about space tourism, decades after the moon landing. Satellite launch businesses just don’t capture the imagine even though they have been around a little while.

    The Physicist had a hearty dose of academic skepticism. Your story sounds like an interesting read, really! What is “The Equation?”

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