Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It Works (and We're Still Here!)

Today was a big day for science, as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland (and France), went online today. It's a pretty big deal:

'It’s a fantastic moment,' said Lyn Evans, who has been the project director of the collider since its inception. 'We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.'

Eventually, the collider is expected to accelerate protons to energies of 7 trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists hope the machine will be a sort of Hubble Space Telescope of inner space, allowing them to detect new subatomic particles and forces of nature.
Pretty cool, huh? There were some minor concerns before start up, at least in some minds, however:
Others, worried about speculation that a black hole could emerge from the proton collisions, have called it a doomsday machine, to the dismay of CERN physicists who can point to a variety of studies and reports that say that this fear is nothing but science fiction.
Coincidentally, this weekend I finished reading (well, listening too, actually) Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston. It's about a bigger better American version of the collider, built under a mountain on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It's startup arouses the ire of the locals and religious fundamentalists that stir up a whole heap of trouble. Of course, it's science fiction.

Or perhaps, more accurately, fantasy, as the president in Preston's novel is not only interested in science but sees the collider as his great legacy. Reality is quite different:
In 1993, the United States Congress canceled plans for an even bigger collider and more powerful machine, the Superconducting Supercollider, after its cost ballooned to $11 billion. That collider, its former director Roy Schwitters of the University of Texas in Austin said recently, would have been in operation around 2001.

Dr. Schwitters said that American particle physics — the search for the most fundamental rules and constituents of nature — had never really recovered from the loss of the supercollider. 'One non-renewable resource is a person’s time and good years,' he said, adding that many young people have left the field for astrophysics or cosmology.
So we're going to let the French and the Swiss (those filthy neutrals!) beat us to the secrets of the universe?!? Yeah, probably.

No comments: