Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Looking for a “God” Particle?

Posted by butalidnl on 18 March 2011

Many people are fascinated by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), while others are afraid that it would form a black hole that could swallow the earth. Still others question why governments are spending huge amounts of money for the LHC (the LHC cost Euro 7.5 Billion to build, and Euro 1 Billion/year to run).

Let us take the last point first. If we consider that one of the many “byproducts” of CERN (which runs the LHC) is the WWW (right, the Worldwide Web is a CERN invention), and that CERN hasn’t asked for payment for it, I think anyone will agree that CERN has already more than earned the Billions of Euros needed for the LHC, many times over.

The possibility of the LHC forming a blackhole that could swallow the earth is another media hypes. This is simply a fantastic idea that shows how imaginative media people are.

In a sense, the LHC is “cheap”. At $10 billion, it costs as much as a single nuclear power plant, or 9 B-2 bombers, or 1 month of the Afghanistan war.

The LHC is a huge (27 kilometers circumference) circular machine that accelerates protons in opposite directions, and then smashes these together. Why do they do this? Well, simply put, they want to look at the pieces that make up the protons. It is a couple of steps beyond mere “atom smashing”. An atom has protons, neutrons and electrons. A proton (or a neutron) is composed of quarks. The LHC examines what composes quarks.

Finding the Higgs Boson
One of the aims of the LHC is to find the Higgs Boson, which is supposed to be the particle  that gives an atom its mass. Media hype calls this the “God particle”, probably because if it gives matter mass, it is an enormously important particle.  It is a lot sexier to say “God particle” than “Higgs Boson”(or is only me?). But in the end, the Higgs Boson is just another particle that scientists are trying to find.

Why is the Higgs Boson, or anything else that the LHC could discover, important? Well, the discovery of the Higgs Boson will lead to the completion of the “Standard Model” theory of subatomic particles; or if it is not found, this could cause the theory to be replaced by another. Either way, it will lead to the refinement of the theory of subatomic particles. And by doing so, could lead to a whole lot of possible discoveries.

Take for example the graviton (which is the particle/wave that transmits gravity). The anti-graviton (which is predicted by Standard Model) could very well lead to anti-gravity applications, which could be enormously useful. Or, if researchers find out more about Zero Point Energy (ZPE, where matter and anti-matter particles spontaneously come into existence out of nothing), they could discover an inexhaustible form of energy. Or they could discover the “Higgs Singlet”, a derivative of the Higgs Boson, which is predicted to travel through time (Large Hadron Collider: A Time Machine?). Or they could discover other things.

Basic science leads to technological applications, eventually. The Gene Theory made possible DNA profiling, Genetic Manipulation, even traditional breeding. The electromagnetic theory made possible electric motors, TVs and computers. And relativity theory paved the way for nuclear power plants and radiation treatments for cancer. So also with the Standard Model – it could come out with all kinds of nice applications which would be of immense importance for mankind.

Working on basic scientific discoveries does not lead immediately to technological inventions; but they do lead to that eventually. Who would have thought at the time that Newton’s experiments with a prism to create a spectrum of light would eventually lead to the radio, mobile phone or computers?

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