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Tomorrow a monumental experiment in physics will start in Switzerland. The new particle accelerator, popularly but misleadingly nicknamed “the Big Bang machine”, will generate energies previously unseen by humans on Earth, in the ongoing quest of the physicists to reproduce conditions at the very start of the Universe. They hope to glean new information about the laws of physics and possibly discover the theoretically predicted elementary particles never before recorded.

Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, cost over 8 million euro to build. One particle which might get produced as the result of this experiment is the Higgs boson, which as physicists theoreticise might help explain how all existing objects in the Universe acquire mass. It’s been the sticking point of theoretical physics for a long while.

Why is this important? The experiment might help unify the two conficting theories of the 20th century: Einstein’s General Relativity theory (which explans the Universe at a macro level), and Quantum mechanics (which deals with matter at extreme micro levels). These theories are not compatible, but are both needed for explanations of certain phenomena – e.g. when considering physics of black holes. Previous attempts to combine the equations of both theories have resulted in all matters having zero mass which is clearly wrong.

Why bother spending this much money? Deepening our understanding of the fundamendal laws of nature develops our science and technology in unimaginably rich and diverse ways. For instance this could help in the long term quest to find new sources of energy.

Physics versus religion. How did the Universe come about? As physicists probe ever closer to the time of “the Big Bang”, they hope to eventually answer this big question. Whilst this or other experiments will not likely convince religious people to abandon their faith in the Divine origin, it is bound to generate some more lively debate. Already we have seen clashes of scientists with creationists over the past few years linked to the increase in the popularity of creationism in recent years and their refusal to accept facts about the evolution (granted, this is a different area to particle physics). This debate is bound to continue for some time but I for one will want to see science prevail.

One of the possible reasons for science “losing ground” is that it has become quite complex and out of reach of understanding of a person out on the street. But it is not all smoke and mirrors. It might need to be taught better at schools or be explained in more practical terms.

Why I find this inspiring: Immense respect for the intellectual prowess of scientists, sheer advances in recent technology making such an experimental project possible, and the possibility of breaking down existing barriers to understanding of science by achieving breakthroughs that capture the world’s imagination.


February 2020
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