Thursday, April 1, 2010

So...NOT the end of the world, then!

On Tuesday, it was announced the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, had smashed two 3.5 trillion electron volt beams of gold ions together. The combination resulted in record energies never before produced on Earth, almost instantaneously creating conditions similar to the universe in the first milliseconds after the big bang.

Almost just as quick, internet discussion groups were alive with both declarations of praise and predictions of doom.

Of course, you're probably aware of the LHC is. It's the product of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), a consortium of 20 European states that spent 10 billion Euros to build the LHC, the largest scientific instrument ever built. it is a 17-mile circumference track of superconducting magnets that direct opposing beams of charged particles into collisions of tremendous force! Imagine the kinetic energy of two baseballs colliding into each other at 100 miles per hour each. Doesn't sound like much? Well then, condense that into an atom. That's a big whack for a little atom!

Of course, for the past couple of years, a lot of talk has been heard over "will this create a black hole and destroy the Earth?" It has even spawned lawsuits in order to prevent the switch being thrown. However, in addition to courts rejecting the bid on the grounds that it was out of their jurisdiction, there were also arguments that nature does this kind of thing over our head every day. In fact, the particles that come into our atmosphere from cosmic phenomenon are even stronger and rain all manner of subatomic particle on us.

So here's the thing...the chances of such an occurrence are not zero. But they're also so remote, you might as well be worried about being trampled by a dinosaur in the next 30 seconds. Hasn't happened yet? Not surprising!

And there were those saying "What a waste of money! It could have been spent on 'real' problems here." To me, that's a spurious argument. First of all, it assumes that "throwing money" at a problem is a solution. Frequently, it's only the cause of more problems.

Secondly, it assumes that not enough money is being spent on certain problems already. However, if you listen to actual economists and people on the ground dealing with these issues rather than Bob Geldof and Bono, the real problem is not the amount of money being spent, but the fact that it isn't getting where it's going. In fact, again, a lot of it boils down to the expectation that money somehow solves everything.

Finally,it presumes to be able to predict how discoveries by CERN will actually be used. Indeed, with every experiment of this type, it opens up the possibility for new and better understanding of the fundamental laws of nature. That, in turn, can lead to advancements in technology that can and have been proven to enhance the quality of life.

So, by next year or so, we should be seeing the LHC powering up even higher to it's maximum 14 trillion electron volts. What amazing discoveries can we look forward to?

See you at the bottom of the black hole!

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