Wednesday is the day for particle physicists and those who like thinking about the very very small in the universe. Cern is the world’s biggest particle collider located in France and Switzerland. Deep inside the 17 mile tunnel that crosses the border twice, protons are sent at almost the speed of light to crash into each other. From that crash, with all that energy in the collision, a variety of smaller particles come out. Detectors are placed at the crash site to “see” (by tracking) the particles coming from the collisions. Popular thought is that a particle people have been looking for, for a very long time has been spotted.
Cern has scheduled a press conference for July 4 and invited a lot of important people in the world of particle physics. They have invited Peter Higgs, the man who’s name came to be associated with the idea of the Higgs field that is in all of space. As particles, including the little things that make up the atoms of matter that we know as hydrogen, oxygen, iron, gold, etc, interact with this field they acquire mass. One way this was explained to me is to think of the Higgs field like an ocean of water. The smallest part of that ocean is a water molecule. Fish and other stuff move through that field of water encountering H2O molecules. The Higgs particle (also called the Higgs boson) is like that molecule of water – the smallest component of the Higgs field. As particles interact with the Higgs particle they gain that property we know as mass. The theory was set out around 1964 so particle physicists have been looking for this particle for a long time. Finding it would confirm the theory of the Standard Model, which is the current theory of what particles make up the universe we see and don’t see.
It would be really cool if the CMS, one of the detectors at Cern, is involved with this hoped for discovery. Years ago I was working at UIC as a teacher intern, making cables that track information from those collisions of two protons. So I could say I had a small part (very very very very … very very very very small) in this hunt for the elusive particle. It is just too bad this discovery didn’t happen in my backyard, Fermilab. 🙁
For those with inquiring minds …
*** Article with lots of info about the Higgs particle and Cern but easy to read
*** GOD Particle – Where did the name the God particle come from? Leon Lederman is given credit for it from one of his book titles but that is not what he really wanted to call it. He wanted to call the Higgs boson that goddamn particle because it has been so hard to find but his editors would let him. Sort of funny since Peter Higgs is an atheist. Article from the Guardian.
*** If you don’t think Cern or sciencency places like this are important – Read this, especially considering you are reading this on a web browser!
*** Interesting stuff about Cern – Largest machine in the world – Colder than outer space – 100,000 times hotter than the Sun – Empty like the vacuum of deep space – Most powerful supercomputer in the world
*** Cern’s web site for us who are not physicists – Be sure to look at the LHC menu and find
*** GREAT pictures from when the LHC first opened in 2008
*** PDF from Cern describing, in easy language, the science and the detectors
Ok, so you can tell I really like this stuff. Not sure where it came from. Maybe from those trips to places my mom took us to as kids (or my siblings would say she dragged us to) like Fermilab’s grounds in Geneva, Illinois where you can see the rise above ground where the tunnel is located underground or Yerkes Observatory and their Sat morning tour. I have always been fascinated with Fermilab since a trip I was able to go on after college (Mom went with me – I needed a break from 3 toddlers, 2 in diapers!!) where we were able to walk down in the tunnel at Fermilab because the new beam line was still being put together. Walking along that beam line with its pipe and surrounding magnets, thinking of tiny protons smashing together at nearly the speed of light exposing unknown knowledge of what the universe is like in its fundamental state is something that has stayed with me all these years. Thanks Mom!