[asa] Swiss proton frenzy (or, are you ready to meet God?)

From: Murray Hogg <muzhogg@netspace.net.au>
Date: Mon Sep 15 2008 - 01:14:01 EDT

Hi all,

I thought the following, from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), to be one of the wittier press comments on the LHC.

Whether the author is well informed or not is moot - it's just a delightful read (IMHO).

Murray Hogg
Pastor, East Camberwell Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia
Post-Grad Student (MTh), Australian College of Theology


Swiss proton frenzy

11th September 2008

Many of you would have heard that yesterday was the day they flipped the
switch at The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Some of you may be
curious to know just what exactly The Large Hadron Collider is, and what
it does and why it costs 12 billion dollars and why would anyone be
insane enough to build a 30 kilometre long circular tube, bury it 200
metres underground, fill it with 1232 of the world's strongest electro
magnets, to accelerate things you can't even see, to speeds you can't
even imagine, to generate information you can't even count, in a country
where coffee costs eight dollars a cup. The answers are bewildering.

First up, the Large Hadron Collider, herein known as the LHC, is the
world's largest particle accelerator, it may also be the world's last,
but more on that later. A particle accelerator is just what it says it is.

It accelerates particles, specifically protons, by running them through
a vacuum with quickly alternating charges of electromagnet current. This
makes the protons go very fast. In the case of the LHC, they're go at
99.9999 percent of the speed of light or one billion kilometres an hour,
which means they take one ten thousandth of a second to complete the 30
kilometre trip round the accelerator.

Indeed, they are going so fast, that according to the physicists, the
tiny, sub atomic particles, are possessed of the same amount of energy
as the United States largest aircraft carrier cruising at 5.6 knots,
that is to say, 362 megajoules.

Now that's pretty clever in itself, but the really clever part is when
they get these protons to smash into a stream of other protons going in
the opposite direction at about the same speed. This is a little like
two commodores crashing at an intersection, times a billion.

The results are spectacular, though sadly we can't see them as they're
occurring at a sub atomic level, but the physicists are keen to pick up
every metaphorical shard of glass, broken bumper, shattered hub cap and
twisted steering wheel and measure all of it.

Indeed, the LHC produces data at an astonishing rate. About six million
DVD's worth for every experiment or slightly more than is needed to
apply for a home loan after the credit crunch.

Okay, so there we have it, very fast particles slamming into each other
to make lots and lots of data for people in white coats to apply for
research grants with. But, aside from the importance of feeding our
scientists, how significant is this information?

Significant enough, to risk the life of you, me, six billion people and
every dog, cat and budgie on the planet. Ask a physicist and they'll
just laugh, and wave away your concerns as they carefully adjust the
pens in their top pocket, "there is hardly any chance of that" they say
in their funny euro accents, light glinting from their pebble- thick

Dudes, you don't go around taking any chance with six billion lives. Its
like putting six billion people in the boot of your car and telling them
you'll drive home safe from the party. Though if you are going to kill
six billion people its good to kill them all at once, so you don't have
to worry about revenge attacks. Talk about a murder suicide.

So how will LHC destroy the earth? You have a choice -

     The creation of a black hole that will crush the earth into a space
a little larger than a tennis ball (users of NSW public transport may
not notice this one).

     The creation of a "strangelet" that will turn our planet into a
neutron star (the Dr Death option).

     The creation of magnetic monopoles that could catalyse proton decay
(Proton decay has always been my greatest fear).

     Penetration of the energy barrier separating our Universe from a
lower-energy Einstein-DeSitter space. (huh?)

So what could be so important to the physicists that they are willing to
kill you and all your family in four different ways to get the
information? Easy - the Higgs Boson particle.

Interestingly, they don't even know if the Higgs Boson particle exists.
In fact the world's leading physicist, Stephen Hawking, wagered one
hundred pounds that they wouldn't find it. I think you'll agree with me,
that spending 12 billion dollars and risking the life of everyone on the
planet, as well as the lives of their pets and the countless bears in
the forests, fish in the seas, birds in the trees and digging up a large
part of Switzerland etc to find a largely theoretical particle is
perhaps a little out of order.

But it gets worse, they need to find the Higgs Boson particle so they
can understand where the seventy five percent of the universe they can't
account for is hiding. That's right, somewhere between, now and the big
bang, they lost three quarters of the universe.

They call it "dark matter" and act like it must be hard to find
something dark out in the immensity of space, but come on! Three
quarters! And these are the guys making the Dr No death machines?

Even one of their own admitted that using a particle accelerator to
understand the universe is like trying to understand how a television
works by examining the pieces that were left after you dropped it from a
jet plane.

Still, its the 11th of September and we're all still alive so everything
worked out fine. Or that's what people are saying. But hey, the machines
not even at complete speed yet.

Yesterday's tests were just a quarter circuit. The full experiments
won't be till later in the year. We may still all die. Yet, if it does
happen there will be five survivors. The guys in the international space
station. Just think how they'll feel as they watch the earth consumed by
a black hole. Now that's lonely. I hope they have a DVD player.


First comment by someone: 'Gonna get pretty smelly in that tennis ball!'

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Received on Mon Sep 15 01:14:39 2008

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