Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Race to Find "The God Particle"

A question absorbing humans since inception is, what is the meaning of life, really? Science is not shying away from its version of that mega philosophy question by seeking truth in the subatomic world for the Higgs boson or God Particle. So far, a quarter century of brain power, and $2-6 billion big ones is the cost on building the LHC or Large Hadron Collider. One of its experiments will be to smash atoms into each other at near the speed of light to itemize their photon gut contents as they break apart in massive explosions. In the collider, the expectation - that's scientific speak for Hope, is scientists will find the Last Mohican boson existing in theoretical suspicion outside the Standard Model which may provide the key or original spark to give life.

Working from Higgs' theory, scientists postulate that initially weightless particles move through a ubiquitous quantum field, known as a Higgs field, like a pearl necklace through a jar of honey. Some particles, such as photons — weightless carriers of light — can cut through the sticky Higgs field without picking up mass. Others get bogged down and become heavy; that is the process that creates tangible matter. "The Higgs gives everything in the universe its mass. Some might say that makes the universe messy. But there's still a beauty to this interaction," says David Francis, a physicist on the ATLAS experiment. "Look at what's around us," he says, pointing at CERN's grand geological amphitheater of the Jura and the Alps. "None of that is possible without the Higgs."

For one particle physicist, he feels the crush of the one way space time continuum, having worked for 40 years on his pet particle theory that the God Particle exists. Peter Higgs, another great Scottish scientist, is now a spry 78, with a firm belief, next year is the year that will yield the result proving his boson theory. The Elegant Universe is the name of a wonderful book as well as the way physicists want their theories to look, but some times its just primordial gumbo that makes the Grand Unified Theory seem within grasp.

The new Geneva collider will re-create the rapidly changing conditions in the universe a split second after the Big Bang. It will be the closest that scientists have come to the event that they theorize was the beginning of the universe. They hope the new equipment will enable them to study particles and forces yet unobserved.

Nobel laureate Leon Lederman has dubbed the theoretical boson "the God particle" because its discovery could unify understanding of particle physics and help humans "know the mind of God."

Higgs said initial reaction to his ideas in the early 1960s was skeptical.

"My colleagues thought I was a bit of an idiot," he said, noting that his initial paper explaining how his theory worked was rejected by an editor at CERN.
Science fiction readers are not unfamiliar with the concept, but the rest of the world would need some serious adjustments if the God Particle is a QED. Right now, until the LHC goes online this summer, the Higgs theory is a concept requiring further proofs.

Technology and ever powerful supercolliders are competing on two continents to be the Higgs Boson finder of record - CERN, formally known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and Fermilab, cute and short for Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. CERN is coming later to the search after spending a fortune to build the LHC deep underground in a 17 mile circular loop at a small town named Crozet at the border of France & Switzerland. Fermilab is under US Department of Energy control outside Chicago, in Batavia, where Higgs believes they already found "it" using Tevatron, but are zealously keeping it under wraps. I love science intrigues. Introverts with IQ's over 140 battling it out to be the most persistent demented geniuses with something to prove or disprove, known in the scientific world as peer review.

Dick Teresi and Leon Lederman decided on humor and a light touch to take the reader on the journey to the the complexities of the singular particle that contains all. Enjoying a book about physics is supposedly a hard thing to do, except the examples of great books from science luminaries and writers keeps destroying that premise. Have a great time getting physics literate by reading The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is The Question?

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