Monday, June 30, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider

I don't know nearly enough physics to say anything useful about what is going on in particle physics. I do think that the Large Hadron Collider is spectacular, and beautiful and inspiring. The comparison with cathedrals is obvious, and I guess pretty regularly made (the words large hadron collider cathedral get about 11,000 Google hits). Really, though, this knocks old cathedrals into a cocked hat when you consider the extraordinary intellectual division of labour, and scientific and technical innovation demanded on so many fronts to pull it off. Don't get me wrong, I think some cathedrals are both beautiful and remarkable technical achievements, and understand that truly great minds worked on some of them. The LHC is just way, way, cooler.

I also have to say that if some of the doom-sayers are correct, and it might end the world, that's OK too. I don't think they are. Not being a physicist, on this point I defer to physicists, and they mostly seem to think it's either very, very, very unlikely or impossible that turning on the LCH properly will set of a large catastrophe. (See a summary of the fears and responses here.) I reckon that even if there were credible risks that we'd end the world, we should still give it a crack. The xkcd cartoon I've reproduced here suggests part of the spirit. And it would be a pretty cool way to go. Just in case, I hope to make sure I'm at least mildly drunk when they do finally turn it on. There's no desktop widget or counter that I've been able to find letting you know when the current expected date of firing up is, but you can watch the progress of the super-cooling on the main LHC website.

There's an official gallery of pictures at CERN here.

And here's a slightly old (from, I think, when they thought it would go live in November 2007) YouTube video on it:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What I love the giant cheap lolz typo possibilities that lurk every time someone types its name...

could make a great T-Shirt:

Hadron gives me a...