The LHC explained, on

The LHC was big news just before it came online, but mostly for the wrong reason: unfounded fears about the Earth being destroyed in a black hole created by the LHC. The news reports should have been about the many profound things the LHC could tell us about how reality is constructed at the fundamental level. The flashy news leads should have focused on how greatly our lives benefit every time we explore the unknown.

One of the first people to set up a homemade particle smasher was Earnest Rutherford, in the first years of the 20th century. He discovered the atomic nucleus, found an explanation for radioactivity, learned how to transmute elements, gave geologists the power to know the age of the Earth, and predicted the neutron. All this, in a wooden university lab without air conditioning.

The LHC is like that, except instead of a pre-WWI college lab, the LHC is more like the most advanced and monumental technological accomplishment in human history, by several metrics (largest machine ever, most combined computing power, most ever Swiss guys carving our Moria-sized vaults beneath the Alps, etc…). The LHC employs several hundred people who are just as smart – and smarter – than Rutherford. All things considered, we’re likely to get some good loot out of all that toiling away of the world’s best physicists, in the functional equivalent of several dozen Baxter Buildings.

I was pleased to hear at least one brilliant discussion of what the LHC can do, and why we should care, on Their September 20th ‘Science Saturday’ vodcast teamed up CalTech physicist Sean Carroll with science journalist Jennifer Ouellette to talk about the LHC. In the process they had some very interesting things to say about how scientists and journalists don’t communicate well, and why. Sean Carroll gave what I thought was a spectacularly cogent explanation of spacetime, branes, fields and particles. It’s a great discussion, and a great introduction to what the LHC is all about.


~ by Planetologist on September 26, 2008.

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