Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LHC and The Worlds Largest Lens

I am absolutely fascinated with human ingenuity. Almost every day I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge or The Bay Bridge and I marvel at the engineering feat of these incredible structures. It is beyond my personal comprehension how we can design and engineer such amazing and sound architecture. We, often time, take it for granted.

Well, the other day, my good friend introduced me to an amazing project that began in the early 80's called the Large Hadron Collider or the 'LHC '. It is another engineering feat that absolutely blows me away! This experiment basically is attempting to fire 2 protons directly at each other at extremely high velocity, creating a mini "Big Bang". By way of this collision, scientists hope to discover the elusive "God Particle", a particle that we have not been able to see or prove since the theory of particle physics began. This particle is essentially the make up of all Dark Matter (basically the space between observable matter)... Now, I might be losing some of you at this point, but hang with me for a moment!

Let me help you to see how awesome this project is...

First, here are some images of the LHC to give you an idea of the scale - CLICK HERE

OK, now you see how huge this project is... So, back to the science.

A particle is so small. If you think about a grain of sand as a particle, that one single, small granule of sand consists of as many particles as all the sand on the surface of the Sahara desert, 10 feet deep....... Now that's a lot of particles!!! - Think about it.

Now we are going to take that tiny particle (proton) and fire it at another tiny particle so that they collide. Hmmmm... Have any of you stood 50 feet across from another person and tried to simultaneously throw a ball toward each other with the hopes of hitting the balls in mid air? Well, if you haven't, you would discover that it is really difficult. Now, take those balls and shrink them into tiny particles and shoot them at extremely high velocity 17 miles through an underground tube toward each other with hopes of those particles colliding... This is essentially what this project is trying to accomplish.

It is amazing to me that we even know this stuff!!! And now we have developed the technology to not only control and move these tiny particles, but we also have the ability to photograph, view and record them. CERN (the lab that is conducting the experiment AND who also invented the World Wide Web) has built the largest 'lens' on the planet, called ATLAS, to record this collision phenomenon:

This experiment doesn't come without protest. There are many scientists that theorize that these collisions can and will produce micro black holes or dangerous subatomic particles. While CERN doesn't discount this theory, they claim that these potential black holes would just neutralize. Other scientists claim that these black holes would simply grow and eventually consume the entire planet! I know its a bit doomsday, but we are venturing into uncharted territory and we don't know what is Really going to happen.

In addition to finding the 'God Particle', physicists also believe that, by way of this collision, we may also discover extra dimensions. Now, this would be very exciting! We have been living in a 4 dimensional world - 3 dimensions of space and 1 dimension of time. String theory actually predicts that we live in as many as 11 dimensions. If this experiment produces these extra dimensions, it would begin to prove elements of string theory and change how we view our universe and existence.

It is strange to me how this project has gone under the mainstream media radar. I know many people involved in the science community have known about this for some time, but tell me, have you heard of it?! I hadn't until only recently and now I am a bit obsessed (as you can tell).

Today marked the very first tests of the LHC. They successfully launched the protons in both directions (clockwise and counterclockwise), without collision. They say on their website, that they will begin the collisions "in a couple of months." I can imagine how excited these physicists must be. It truly marks a new discovery in space and time and we are about to embark on something potentially spectacular and mind blowing... But, I can't help wondering if there won't be any repercussions associated with this experiment... Logic dictates that messing with the Spacetime continuum may disrupt our existence as we know it.

I know that this is all very deep and difficult to understand, but there are resources out there if you are interested in learning more:

History Channel Show - Next Big Bang

Silly Informative Video

CERN Website

PETH - People for the Ethical Treatment of Hadrons (funny)


Jeramy Sossaman said...

woahh!!!! thanks matt. my brain hurts....seriously. good stuff though. take care.

michelle said...

That is very cool Matt, thanks for sharing. But come on..if you can fill your brain with that kind of info how can you not remember what you had for dinner last night?!

Matt Reoch said...

Ha! I can't explain it either!
We hold on to the things that we feel are important, I guess?! Oh, shoot I think I forgot my wife's birthday!!!

Carrie Hasson said...

ok, i had put off reading this for a little while because it is a lot to grasp! my father in law is a nuclear physicist and i dont "get" half of what he says lol. i found the comments very interesting when i clicked the article link, people around the world are very passionate about this project one way or the other. I also wonder why I haven't heard of this before, as someone who watches a lot of news and has a husband whose job is to stay current on events, well its kind of perplexing. definitely gonna have to get my father-in-law's 2 cents on this one. thank God for scientists, they enable me to be the right brained person i am!