September 12th, 2008

krazy koati

Doing the things a particle can

With the turning on of the Large Hadron Collider on some specific day that I never get quite right at some time that's 3:30 pm in some time zone we should be seeing the answers to some of the great questions of the universe, like it can always be 3:30 pm in some time zone. But probably it's also worth exploring questions about the Large Hadron Collider.

A hadron is the fundamental unit of distance separating the province of Britannia from the territories of the Celts. This barrier was essential to protect the Romans from the Celts, who did not wear pants. The Romans at the time did not wear pants either, but the pants the Celts did not wear were wildly different from the pants the Romans did not wear, and should not be confused. It's hard to know how to confuse pants anyway, as they are among the most logical thinkers of the clothing kingdom. Still, the differences in the pants they did not wear resulted in much hard feelings when buying one another belts, necessitating their separation.

Colliding particles together is one of the most popular pastimes for people with spare subatomic particles. If this sounds frivolous or destructive rest assured the hadrons would otherwise probably just have been left in the junk drawer. But these collisions are interesting because current physics models the universe as being full of fields, which are volumes of space in which we can do addition, multiplication, and division. But according to the present models, including a 1/144 scale Saturn V, any change in one field has to be done by particles.

Now here's the trick: what are the particles made up of, if not a bunch of field gathered together and busily commuting division while it thinks it isn't being watched? (This is understood as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle by people who weren't reading the explanations carefully.) But then how are the particles to change, whether by self-improvement or by education, if not through a field, which is made up of themselves, continuing on like that until they finally give up and settle down to whatever they were before?

So it's through these fields that everything interesting happens to particles, and through these particles that everything interesting happens to fields, and if nothing interesting happens to particles that's why we have to collide them until they go staggering off in a comical little dazed walk. While so confused we can inspect their pockets and see if they have any good secrets of the universe.

The big secret to find is the Higgs boson, which was named for Darrel Higgs, who was the 20th round draft pick for the Seattle Mariners in 1984. The Higgs boson is believed to be responsible for there being mass in the universe through its technique of slipping into everything it passes unhealthy bits of fats and carbohydrates. Those following the Atkins diet should reduce their intake of Higgs bosons accordingly.

Colliding is done by speeding the particles up to very near the speed of light and then letting them hit some other particles. If that isn't enogh consider that because of cosmic rays there are particles going just that very near the speed of light all day and night and they're running into you even right now, explaining that sense of being by tiny yet extremely fast particles. Furthermore, because of the principle of relativity, from the particles' point of view you're slamming into them at almost the speed of light, and since this is true for every particle everywhere you're actually going in all sorts of directions almost as fast as light is, from different perspectives. So if you feel like you're being pushed in every direction at once it's because you are, and now we have hadrons to thank for it.

Large hadrons are much like regular hadrons, except for being more economical in bulk, but only if you actually use them all.

These sorts of colliders are occasionally known as `super colliders'' because of their ducking behind things, changing into shining bright uniforms, and performing various heroic acts of heroism. Pretend you don't know their real identities.

Trivia: The addition of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners to the American League brought the number of clubs in the major leagues to 26, the greatest number since 1884, when the Union Association, American Association, and National League were in competition. Source: Great Baseball Feats, Facts, and Firsts, David Nemec.

Currently Reading: Blood Music, Greg Bear.