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Monday, May 12, 2014

THE GOD PARTICLE

I went to see Particle Fever (to the left is the Atlas Detector from the Large Hadron Collider), which gained a sparkling 95% reviewers' rating from Rotten Tomatoes.  Note that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 only got 53%, The Other Woman 24% and Heaven is for Real 49%.

Got to compliment the makers of the movie not to have hyped the whole thing by calling it The God Particle, as I did, plus also much of the world.  Particle Fever is a documentary about the successful 2012 search at the European CERN facility in France for the Higgs Boson, which the media nicknamed The God Particle.

Here is a photo of Fabiola Giannoti, one of lead spokespeople for the experiment, with Peter Higgs at the announcement:

On the other hand, maybe they should have called it The God Particle, for there were only four people in the theater, and last weekend it stood at #48 with $27,368 earned for the week.  But it has been out two months.  You can always go to Netflix or Amazon...someday.

I had a special reason for wanting to see Particle Fever, for three decades ago I was in the group of congressional staffers that effectively planted a poison pill to kill the proposed Superconducting Super Collider (SSC).  It took until 1993 to eventually cancel the project in Waxahachie, Texas after 14.6 miles of the 51 mile tunnel systems were already bored.  SSC would have been three times the circumference of the Large Hadron Collider, would have had five times the collision energy, and almost surely would have found the Higgs Boson by the Year 2000.  I still feel somewhat terrible for two reasons:  
  • first, if permitted to proceed, America would have been responsible for the greatest scientific achievement ever
  • second, the International Space Station (ISS), a true white elephant, which was in competition with the SSC for funding, survived

This is the dilemma faced by decision-makers, like our U.S. Congress.  Needing to make a go - no go decision on monumental projects, do you choose something like the SSC, which had no perceptible economic purpose, or the ISS, which promised new industries in space?  For the record, ISS, a $150 billion misadventure, has yet to produce even one company, and probably won't, for it is destined to crash in about a decade.

There was also an anti-nuclear sentiment in the early 1980's from the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, so this same congressional entity (no name...some of us just met) also had a hand in terminating the Tennessee Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, which would have created more energy than was used.  This, too, nearly a third of a century later, I wonder if we did the right thing.

Well, getting back to the movie, it had everything to do with the smartest people in the world, for the best minds go into physics.  Unfortunately, it takes a PhD to do anything with that degree, and then you need to try to find a job.  However, Forbes rates physics #15 in its Most Valuable College Majors.  Biomedical engineering is #1 and various engineering fields occupy a third of the slots.  As a Biochemical Engineering major, I'm linked to the top.  One of the problems with physics is that there is a severe shortage of physics teachers in high school.  The subject is too difficult, at least compared to some of the softer sciences and humanities.  On the other hand, there are no teachers of engineering in high school, so the lack of teachers in that field is not fatal.

Again, back to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which found that Higgs Boson, this was a collaboration of 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries.  There is something to be learned here, for scientists from Iran are working with colleagues from Israel.  Interesting that one of the lead thinkers for the effort, Nima Arbani-Hamed (left), was born of two physicists from Iran, while the mentor for many of the active particle physicists, Savas Dimopoulos (right), as a child, left Turkey with his parents to eventually teach at Stanford.  I can only paraphrase him and his partners, but at the end of the movie, Dimopoulos said something  like:  you wonder about the purpose of life, for here in this lonely corner of a minor galaxy, life has found a way to appreciate art and discover the secrets of how we came to be.

In closing, here is a quote from my posting announcing the discovery of the Higgs Boson (not sure if this is accurate, but I like the colors of an artist's impressions to the right):

So is is this the end of physics?  Hardly, for what about dark matter and energy, gravitational waves, faster than light travel (which has been observed) and the ultimate theory of everything.  In fact, the latest reports indicate that the Large Hadron Collider  at CERN will undergo a $2.3 billion upgrade (already a sum of $10 billion has been spent) to find dark matter.  They might close down this facility for more than two years to increase the power by another magnitude (10).

Yes, that was two years ago, and the above is sort of what's happening, save for the fact that the faster than speed of light observation was later discredited.  Lamentably, when upgraded, the capacity of the French LHC will only be up to 14 TeV per proton, still not the planned 20 TeV of the cancelled Texas SSC.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high today, up 112 to 16,695.

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