If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

The discovery of the Higgs Boson or often referred to as the “God particle” by the media, after the title of Leon Lederman’s popular science book on particle physics, stirs up much excitement and controversy. How could such an important event be so complicated for us to understand?

Here’s an interesting article about the  God particle that could somehow answer questions of the weary.

The Higgs Boson

I’m a physics tutor, and as a physics tutor I often get asked about the science in the news at the moment. This is good, it creates discussion and I’m always pleased when people (especially my students) take an interest in current world affairs, especially in science.

So of course I’ve had many, many questions about the LHC at CERN (The Large Hadron Collider) which many of you have seen/read about on the news. And I always get asked the same two questions:

1) Is it going to kill us all / create a black hole?

2) What’s the point of it?

Let me cover question 1 first.

No. It won’t.

Question 2 can be asked in different ways:

What are they trying to find? Will they find anything? What use will it be to us?
To answer the question properly you need to know the basics (and I really mean basics) of what the Large Hadron Collider does.
It’s all in the name really. It’s a huge machine that accelerates tiny particles (called Hadrons) into each other at vast velocities. This has been done before but the reason that the LHC is so special is because it’s being done at much higher speeds, and therefore much higher energies than ever before.

So, why bother?

Well by doing this, CERN is hoping to re-create the conditions that happened just after the big bang, where vast amounts of energy create huge collisions of these particles.

What are they trying to find?

CERN is hoping to discover a new type of particle. We still don’t understand everything about particle physics, there are many gaps in our knowledge but the great thing is, is that we KNOW that we don’t know everything. This means that we’ll strive to discover the answers. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are merely theories so far, we don’t know what they are yet.

Did they find anything?

Almost certainly. The results of the search for the Higgs Boson had Sigma 5 which means they’re about 99.99% certain that they have found what they’re looking for.

There was a chance that they’d discover nothing at all. It’s a risk we have to take in the name of discovery and science, but it happens all the time and it’ll keep happening. Taking chances and risks is what makes us human and what keeps us learning.

So they’ve discovered a new particle, what use will it be to us?

Nothing. Absolutely no use whatsoever. It’ll be completely useless to us for now. But let me give you some examples of Scientific discovery.

In 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen accidently discovered a new part of the electromagnetic spectrum which he called Röntgen Rays. They were useless and in his publication of his results he noted that they travelled in straight lines and occasionally caused shadowing and fogging on images. In fact he actually re-named them to identify them as a secondary ray or unidentified value and he called them X-rays…

In 1928 a Scottish scientist called Alexander Fleming discovered the antibacterial properties of a mould called Penicillin. However 3 years later he gave up his research deciding that it wasn’t strong enough to be useful to humans. It wasn’t until 1942 that two doctors claimed to have saved a life using penicillin as an antibiotic.

Today it’s 4th July 2012. Every year millions of X-rays Photographs are taken in hospitals to help doctors identify illness or injury. Every year millions of lives are saved by the use of Penicillin.

So, if you ask me that question: Now that we’ve discovered a new particle, what use will it be to us? I’ll tell you.

For now, it’ll be completely useless.

For now.

G. Brancazio, admin of Epic Lab Time

Now let’s wait for Robert Langdon to surface the headlines one of these days.


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