Monday, 14 May 2012

Support your local cyclotron


An excellent article in New Scientist 12 May 2012 by Michael Brooks and Richard Webb about Majoranas prompts an urge to unpick the hermetic language of particle-physics and The Big Bang that only one in five-hundred-million people even attempt to follow. Majoranas are nothing to do with Prime Minister John Major, or prancing Drum Majorettes, or bigger Big Macs with fries, but are theoretical particles that may or may not exist, named after Italian physicist Ettore Majorana, who disappeared in 1938.

 The many billions of dollars invested in the LHC at Geneva and other such test sites is motivated by mankind’s insatiable curiosity. We want to know how it all works. If we can figure HOW, then we might be nearer to knowing WHY, and if we know WHY then we might be able to tackle GOD about human built-in depreciation and a few other vexing issues.  

Most readers know that the LHC is a large Swiss/French circular underground tunnel in which bits of atoms are sent whizzing in one direction while other bits speed in the other direction – and are steered by huge magnets to collide. The collision debris is analysed by earnest people in white coats, spectacles, many bad hair days and open-toed sandals. And we know it is very expensive.

What they are looking for are the many bits missing from the Standard Model of how all the bits we do know about stick together. The Standard Model brilliantly explains and scientifically predicts the very small sub-atomic (smaller than atoms) things in the universe. It dates back to before Einstein, who added a few good ideas, and over about 100 years has evolved to be used to make many practical things – like mobile phones and touch-screen-computers and TV Reality Shows; in short – it works.

BUT – The Standard Model of minuscule particles has not been reconciled with the macro-world (as big as we humans, for example), or with Gravity, which is inexplicable, and it has 90% of the bits missing; both from the centre of atomic nuclei, where teeny-weeny Quarks hide, and from Galaxies as large as the Milky Way. If you had 90% missing you would not work – but somehow we and the universe do work, so the missing stuff is clearly not missing, it is just hidden from us.

For many decades the hidden sub-atomic bits have foxed physicists. The current proposed solution is the infamous and universally misunderstood Boson of Professor Higgs – which in teeny-weeny particle terms is a biggish one, but so far elusive and invisible. The minute a layperson quizzes a physicist about the Higgs, they cloak themselves in mathematical, algebraic obscurity, translate normal concepts such as speed, size and weight into unimaginable “MeVs” or millions of electron volts – electric-charges - not little balls hurtling round the LHC; glibly claiming that E=MC2 means matter and energy are interchangeable. And they descend into physics-speak to confuse even the most intelligent committees who, rather than admit utter bafflement, keep taxpayers funds flowing. In a few words, this is what they are talking about:

Professor Hubble observed that the universe is expanding. Theoretically tracking the expansion back by compressing it; takes us back to the beginning – The Big Bang. This was (theoretically) a very, very, very, very hot ball of non-material, expanding energy, lots of MeVs. As it expanded it cooled and, just like your chemistry teacher demonstrated crystals precipitating in saturated-solutions, bits formed in and from the cooling stuff of the universe (which is “light” or the electro-magnetic-spectrum). These bits were and are the sub-atomic particles. Light was transformed into matter – straw was spun into gold - and all the phenomena (things) in the universe started to form. The rest is history. However, 90% of matter seems to be missing – so conjure up the Higgs and start searching for it.

“They” think that 90% is missing because our home galaxy, the Milky Way, spins so fast that the outer stars, such as our Sun, should be flung away into space; there is not enough gravity in the matter we can detect to hold the galaxy together. Thus, they say, there is invisible matter or Dark Matter everywhere. The Higgs would fit the gap, fill the bill, do the trick. The LHC will find it – they hope.

BUT, just as all eyes are focused on missing matter, astrophysicists, studying very, very large things, announce that the universe is expanding ever faster. The Hubble Expansion is accelerating and something, another mysterious force, is pushing it outwards; leading gloomily, depressingly and futilely to the ultimate heat-death of the whole damned thing; rendering all of us, the whole of mankind and nature, our lives, thoughts, trials and triumphs completely and utterly meaningless. This annihilating force is called Dark Energy, a mathematician’s theory and conclusion that I wholly disagree with.  


PS – my ideas of what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are illustrated and with music, at:

And without the diverting music:
Short, pictorial, overview of these speculations

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