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The rediscovery of the original apparatus and materials from 1950ies experiments to create amino acids – the building blocks of life – reignited the interest in this debate.

Original 1950ies experiments: Stanley Miller originally performed these experiments and managed to create 5 amino acids, which the theory suggests would have formed a “primordial soup” which would have been the basis for proteins and subsequent life creation on the planet. A strand of his work focussed on creating amino acids involving steam. However in the 1950ies it was deemed that the Earth’s early atmosphere was not like that, so the experiment suffered from subsequent obscurity; the kit with his full notes was lost.

Update and enrich the findings: Now that the old experimental kit and detailed notes have been located by Miller’s former student, now Professor Jeffrey Bada, the latter managed to move forwards from the 1950ies experimental results and create 22 amino acids. He argues that ancient volcanoes, similar to existing volcanoes, may well have had the atmospheric conditions that Miller used in his earlier tests. Thus, young planet’s volcanoes and thunderstorms accompanying their many eruptions could have indeed created a “little, local prebiotic factory” of amino acids, in itself was a giant step towards creating life forms of Earth.

Read the full story from the BBC here.

Divine intervention or volcanic sparks? What is particularly fascinating about this debate is that it brings back and updates the discussion about the origins of life on Earth. The scientific explanation is now supported with some fresh experimental evidence on the possibility of creating life without divine intervention – but just involving natural processes on the planet.

To date, this issue has beeb one of the biggest debate points between atheism and religion, alongside the origins of the Universe (Big Bang v God).

What would religious people’s response be on this matter of this experiment, I wonder?

LHC has been reported as damaged by the BBC earlier today. A magnet failure in the £3.6bn ($6.6bn) “atom smasher” was discovered to be a problem worse than initially anticipated. It will now be out of action for 2 months whilst it is being repaired.

It’s of course a huge and disappointing setback for the project. The original schedule anticipated that later this year some tangible experiment results would be available as work gets into its full swing. This will now be all postponed.

Unfortunately there has already been one more minor fault with LHC which was fixed earlier this week, whilst we were mostly preoccupied with the global financial meltdown.

More details from the BBC article here.

Yes, this is old news by the time you read this! LHC has started operating some 4 hours ago as I write this, at about 7am GMT time or at 5pm Melbourne time. And, stating the obvious, the world survived.

Phew, some would say. But not that we ever doubted that things would carry on as normal for the rest of us.

At about 8:30 GMT, some protons were pushed through the the accelerator to confirm it works in principle. The test worked fine – and it appears that this might be the extent of today’s work.

The bulk of LHC’s activities is apparently scheduled to take place later this year. Some would say – there is still time to destroy the world when LHC really gets going. Well, I personally don’t think so – the guys will have done their homework over the 14 years it took to build LHC. And there are other smaller “atom smashers” about, functioning perfectly well without the rest of us noticing.

Here’s to the success of the biggest Atom Smasher the world has ever seen!

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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