Friday, September 23, 2011

i read book

Yeah so I read a book one time last week. I highly enjoyed it, and thought I would write a little piece about a piece of writing. If that interests you, read on. If not, read on.

Present at the Creation by Amir D. Aczel

Dr. Aczel, having written multiple books on similar subjects, presents the story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider in a fast paced, very story-like fashion. His understanding of particle physics and quantum mechanics informs his explanations of complex and obscure principles, which are done in such a lucid style that they will fascinate even the most physics-uninclined shithead.

The absence of equations, combined with a sprinkling of humor, really transforms it into a compelling story, as opposed to just a textbook regurgitation of complex theories and equations meant merely to show readers how intelligent the author is. And really going beyond particle physics, he tells a little bit about each of the dozens of scientists that contributed to the field, to get to where we are today - from personal anecdotes, to humorous accounts of conversations between scientists, to lightly touching on a couple rivalries between scientists.

In the past year or so, there have been multiple books written about the same subject - the pending and possible discovery of the Higgs Boson (more on that later). In fact, I'm currently reading one now, and Present at the Creation, I find to be overall a better read, with no small credit due to the author.

That after reading the book in question, I was enthralled enough to read another on the same topic, should tell you all you need to know. If you've ever had a passing interest in physics, the creation of the universe, black holes, or anything related, this is a great place to start.

What? CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Organization used to be Council - the C; the acronym was always bungled) is in the physics research space, most recently known for building a particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. It smashes together particles at very high energies. You may recall a light hysteria over the imagined dangers, namely a black hole swallowing the earth, from a couple years back. Research from the LHC will supposedly (and hopefully) lead to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, a particle that is believed to give other particles mass when they interact. Obviously, the implications are huge - why is anything, anything? Because it has mass, that's why.

Additionally, they hope to find out what the deal is with antimatter (every particle in the Standard Model of physics has an antiparticle that is its twin, with an opposite charge and when they meet, they annihilate. Somehow, after the Big Bang, matter curiously won out over antimatter); to bring to light more about dark energy and dark matter (research says that you only see about 4-5% of mass in the universe); to explore the possibilities of hidden dimensions (up to ten or eleven, and I had trouble wrapping my head around the fourth, space-time); and finally, to learn a little bit more about black holes (don't jump in one!). Of course, they wouldn't be mad if some other burning question gets randomly answered, like, who shot JR?

Huh? So CERN built this multi-billion dollar, huge, scientific contraption (over the France - Switzerland border, close to Geneva and the alps. The beams of particles shoot around this underground 16.5 mile tunnel, powered by tens of thousands of tons of gigantic magnets, until they reach just shy of the speed of light. Then some dude, or chick, probably in a white robe, probably with a PhD and a couple pubs under his or her belt, directs them to collide.

Particles smashing together at very high speeds - imagine a one-way street with two huge semis (not the flesh, half-filled-with-blood kind of semis) careening towards each other as fast as they can go, then colliding. Main differences here is that when the particles collide, there is valuable data to be had, where as when the semis collide, we just hope somebody caught it on youtube.

Anyway, they're doing all this high energy particle smooshing to emulate literally shades of a second just after the big bang, right before things started becoming things. Upon collision, the particles collide, and since energy and matter cannot be truly destroyed, we get a whole bunch of different particles. By using weird things like theories, mathematics, physics and computers, they think they know what they're looking for and have an inkling that they'll know it when they see it (particle reaction trails, energy calculations, mass approximations, photons being emitted, and electrons jumpin' all around, etc.).

Since the book was written in 2010, they're still looking to wrap up experiments at the current energy level (7 TeV, read: shitloads of energy) sometime this fall, with a much better idea of whether or not the Higgs Boson does exist by end of the year/early 2012. The plan is to do some maintenance so the energy level that it currently accommodates can be doubled, all the way to 14 TeV (a double shitload of energy). Think of this as an excuse: "oh yeah, heh, about the billions of dollars we're requesting for maintenance - uh, the data is inconclusive, we need a higher energy level." Bigger, faster, more is a way of life not just for America's slovenly masses, but for quantum physicists too.

Bottom Line: I'm kind of a turd and not as much of it went over my head as should have.


1 comment:

neutrino said...

Nice timing for this review - CERN just figured out that I can move faster than light! Take that, physics.