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Sep 15, 2008 Features / Columnists, Tony Deyal column
Dr. Michio Kaku is beaming. Dr. Kaku, who can be found on the Science Channel, is a professor in theoretical physics at the City University of New York (CUNY).
His basic field of expertise, what he calls his “day job”, is string theory which, if you’re interested in particle physics, can be spell-binding; but if you’re not, can tie you up in knots. Elizabeth Finkel who interviewed Dr. Kaku at length in COSMOS (Issue 2, 2005) comments, “Problem is, string theory is too weird for most people to understand. Some scientists even say it’s more fiction than science.”
It is not strings as in an ongoing puppet show where our actions are pre-determined, but strings like those of a guitar, stretched tight and floating in space-time. Dr. Kaku’s latest book, “Physics of the Impossible”, examines technologies that might make possible time travel, anti-matter, star ships, precognition, invisibility and teleportation.
But why is Dr. Kaku “beaming”? Is it about the teleportation technology on the Starship Enterprise, where the Engineer, Scotty, can beam up Captain Kirk and the occasional Klingon? Has he invented a “beamer” or has he become the first being to be “beamed”? First of all, Dr. Kaku is not the only one beaming; thousands of researchers and scientists from 80 nations, some of whom have been waiting for this particular beam for more than 20 years, are all beaming with him.
Secondly, and most importantly, while it is not a sunbeam or a roof-beam, it is a major machine — a true marvel of modern technology — that will help to support an important theory on the origin of our universe.
Roger Highfiled of the UK Telegraph describes what the machine, called the Large Hadron Collider, is about: “The machine will slam subatomic particles called protons together to recreate conditions not seen since an eyeblink after the Big Bang of creation, and explore new realms of nature, including finding the Higgs particle that plays a starring role in current theory, holding it together and helping to endow matter with mass.”
The project, organised by the 20 European member-nations of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), is 300 feet under a French village, Crozet, on the border with Switzerland. The collider is designed to push the proton beam close to the speed of light, whizzing 11,000 times a second around a long ten-foot wide tunnel.
According to Alexander Higgins of the Associated Press, “The world’s largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons around a 17-mile underground ring Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.
After a series of trial runs, two white dots flashed on a computer screen at 10:36 a.m. indicating that the protons had travelled the full length of the $3.8 billion Large Hadron Collider. “There it is!” project leader Lyn Evans said when the beam completed its lap.
Why all this interest in a beam that we cannot see? It will help us to peer into the “dark” matter and hidden dimensions of space and time. “We will be able to see deeper into matter than ever before,” said Dr Tara Shears, a particle physicist at the University of Liverpool. “We will be looking at what the Universe was made of billionths of a second after the Big Bang. That is amazing, that really is fantastic.”
Paul Rincon of the BBC explained, “The currently favoured model involves a particle called the Higgs boson — dubbed the ‘God Particle’. According to the theory, particles acquire their mass through interactions with an all-pervading field carried by the Higgs.
The Higgs is part of the quest because, while losing weight is an everyday concept to most people, physicists are still trying to find it. They don’t know where the masses of the supposed elementary particles (quarks and leptons) come from, such as the three quarks that make up the protons they are banging together in the LHC.”
A quark is a generic physical particle that interacts with the four fundamental forces – weak interaction, strong interaction, electromagnetism and gravity. Quarks are quirky and can be in two places at the same time.
What about Higgs? He is Professor Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, who first proposed and wrote about the concept of the all-important particle which gives weight to the idea that a head-on collision between the two beams in the Hadron will create mass, so that the little bang will help us to understand the big bang. Physorg.com sums it up: “Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass. In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea: there must exist a background field that would act rather like treacle.”
However, it is not all sweetness and light. Higgs does not like the term “God” particle, since he is an atheist. The originator of the phrase is Nobel laureate Leon Lederman. He called the theoretical boson “the God particle” years ago because its discovery could unify understanding of particle physics and help humans “know the mind of God.”
Another famous scientist, author of “A Brief History of Time,” astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking, has bet US$100 that the Hadron will not find the God particle. Professor Hawking’s bet is that the experiment could discover superpartners, particles that would be “supersymmetric partners” to particles already known about.
He told the BBC, “”Their existence would be a key confirmation of string theory, and they could make up the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together.”
Will they find the God particle? So far, only God knows, and He is not telling.
* Tony Deyal was last seen saying that quarks come in different flavours – up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom. Sounds like some people I know!
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