Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Love Physics

That's why I majored in it. Not because I wanted to work as a physicist; I just liked learning physics.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's biggest particle accelerator that, when it finally goes into operation, will smash atoms together with unprecedented energy to see what they're made of. The most exotic target is the Higgs boson, a particle predicted by theory that probably maybe oughtta exist but nobody has yet seen one. Some call it "The God Particle." The LHC should be powerful enough to find it.

Unfortunately, when scientists flipped the "on" switch in September 2008, part of the LHC went kablooey. They hope to try again by the end of this year. However, two physicists have a theory for why the collider misfired in 2008 and, indeed, why it may never work right at all: time travel. Or as an essay in the New York Times explains:

". . . it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."

Now, I'm sure the scientists, Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya, are just having a goof. Pretty sure. But at the same time, they've devised some experiments to test their theory--which, to their credit, they began noodling before the LHC went kablooey--and if the collider never quite gets up to speed for various statistically improbable reasons, well . . . we'll see if they win a Nobel Prize (in Physics) for purely theoretical potential future accomplishments. But that would be silly.



Sherwood Harrington said...

...might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one...

There's the new killer app for e-mail! After spell checking, it would send the message via the LHC to check for abhorrence.

I think I deserve a Nobel for that, don't you?

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Higgs Boson would be a good name for a hyperactive chihuahua.

Particle physics is so counterintuitive that it's sometimes hard to tell what's for real and what's a joke.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, I think you're long overdue.

Namowal, good call on the chihuahua. And I think sometimes the particle physicists aren't sure themselves.