Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hadron Collider and the search for God Particle

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Friends,

          As we all know, a few days back the Large Hadron Collider(LHC) started functioning. Before it started functioning there were rumors that the world would end because the LHC would create Black Holes that would gobble up the earth. Now the fact that I am writing this article and you are reading it( hopefully) means that nothing of that sort has happened.
Lots of VERITAS readers asked me to write an article about what the LHC is really trying to find and why that is significant. In this article I hope to tell you about these things. But in this article I will not go into the technology behind the LHC. I will only talk about the importance of LHC for Physics.

   First let’s look at the name : Large Hadron Collider. Hadrons are particles made up of quarks. So a Hadron is a collection of “smaller” particles. Some examples are the proton and the neutron. On the other hand some particles like photon and electron are not hadrons because they are not composed of smaller particles(quarks). So the LHC is the world’s biggest particle collider which aims to collide high energy beams of protons( which are Hadrons). But collide protons for what purpose?

   The aim is to collide protons so that  Higgs Bosons is released. The word Boson means that the particle has integral value of spin( 0 or 1 or 2 etc). This is different from Fermions ( like electrons) which have half-integral spins( 1/2 etc). The Higgs Boson is a prediction of the Standard
Model of Particle Physics. Simply put, the Standard Model of Particle Physics is a theory that tries to describe three of the four fundamental forces of nature. It tries to explain and integrate electrodynamics, weak nuclear and strong nuclear forces. It does not try to explain Gravity.

  So the Higgs Boson is a prediction of the Standard Model. According to the standard model there exists a particle with spin 0 which is responsible for the property of mass. So things around us have mass because some particles like electrons and protons and neutrons have mass. And protons and electrons have mass because there exists a particle called the Higgs Boson. The LHC is trying to check if it actually exists and therefore if the Standard Model of Particle Physics is correct.

        The Higgs Boson has never been detected. In fact, it is the only particle in the Standard Model that has never been detected. It has never been detected because it can only be created ( in a form that enables it to be detected) at extremely high energies. And that is what the LHC is trying to create- blasting two beams of protons against each other at extremely high energies so that Higgs Bosons are released and detected.

 The Higgs Boson is so fundamental that some Physicists refer to it as the God particle. The Higgs Boson is so fundamental to theoretical physics that if it is not detected a lot of Physics will have to be rewritten. The Standard Model would have to be dumped and we will start particle
physics  from  scratch.

 But if the Higgs Boson is discovered we would get clues about another mystery- the mystery of dark matter. According to Physicists about 96% of matter in the universe is missing- unaccounted for. We know that there is matter because it causes gravity and other effects but we cannot “see” this matter. So this matter is invisible to all our detection but we know that it is there because it causes the galaxies to rotate in a certain way and the universe to expand at a certain rate. If the Higgs Boson is discovered we will make great progress to understand what Dark Matter really is and what it is composed of.

 Many TV channels said that the LHC is trying to create a Big Bang or Black Holes. That is not true. The LHC will hit the beams of protons at such high energies that a quark-gluon plasma would be created. This is actually a different state of matter- a state in which quarks and gluons( particles that bind quarks together) are roaming about freely. And this state existed in the universe just after the Big Bang. So the LHC will help us understand the properties of the quark-gluon plasma and thus help us understand the conditions that existed in the universe just after Big Bang.

       So the Large Hadron Collider is a very important tool that would help us understand the fundamental laws that govern the universe. It will not yield information that will help technology in the near future. The LHC exists only for the expansion of pure human knowledge. And there is no bigger achievement than widening the horizons of human thought and knowledge.  The Large Hadron Collider was built with a huge cost of
about 10 billion dollars. Some people called this a waste of money because this money could have gone to feed a lot of poor people. But in my opinion the unique defining characteristic of the human race is our love for knowledge and our constant attempt to understand the universe around us. Yes, we need food to feed the world’s poor but should we not be cutting the defense expenditure of countries to feed the poor?

 

More Dope : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fJ6PMfnz2E

 

Kanwar

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Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
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Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Descartes, The Doubter

A few weeks back I was having a discussion with my good friend Kavita  about Doubt and Belief. Any discussion about these subjects is incomplete without talking about Rene Descartes and his philosophy. In today’s VERITAS we will talk about Descartes and how his philosophy became the foundation of the modern Scientific method.
Most of the material for this VERITAS has been taken from Bertrand Russell’s ” The History of Western Philosophy” and E.T Bell’s “Men of Mathematics”.

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Descartes was born in 1596 in Indre-et-Loire in France. His father was a judge in a local court. He studied law after his schooling and earned a law degree in 1612. But he did not practice law. He wanted knowledge- real knowledge. He traveled around Europe and met people to gain knowledge from “the great book of the world”. But wherever he went, his friends followed him. So to secure a more complete quiet he joined the Dutch army in 1617. In the winter of 1619-1620 he was posted in Bavaria. It was on one of those cold winter days that he sat next to a stoveand thought about a philosophy that he would later describe in the “Discours de la Methode”. In 1622 he returned to France. He sold all his property in 1923 and invested it in bonds so that he could have a secure lifelong income. He went back to the Dutch republic in 1928 and spent the next twenty odd years there. These were the most productive years of his life in terms of his Philosophical and Mathematical work. In Amsterdam he had an affair with a servant girl, Helene Jans with whom he had a daughter in 1635. His daughter Francine died in 1640. In 1949 Queen
Christina of Sweden sent a warship to fetch him. She wanted him to be her personal teacher. All his life Descartes had been a late riser- he would never get out of bed before noon. But the queen insisted that her lessons should start at 5 AM. This early rising and the cold Scandinavian winter did not suite Descartes’ health.

  He died in 1650 of pneumonia in Sweden.

Now let’s talk about Descartes’ ideas. Descartes was a philosopher, a mathematician and a man of science.

In mathematics his greatest contribution was the invention of co-ordinate geometry. Many of us have studied this in our class 11 and 12th. For the others I will say this: coordinate geometry is the study of geometry using the algebraic description of shapes and figures. So instead of drawing a circle we can use the equation of a circle. There is, similarly ,the equation  of a line and an ellipse and sphere etc. It is a very powerful method and a great revolution in mathematics.

Now let’s talk about Descartes’ contribution to philosophy. In 1637 he published the “Discourse on Method”( also known as “Discours de la Methode”. In 1642 he published Meditations. These two books discuss his Philosophy which is based on doubt. Descartes refers to it as “Cartesian doubt”. Descartes believed that in order to have a firm basis of philosophy one should start with doubting everything. And then he would build on that.

His first step was to doubt sense perception. He knew that our senses sometimes tell us things that are not true. Now Descartes realized that if he doubts everything then there is no place to start his philosophy. So he decided that since he is thinking these thoughts and since he is doing the doubting therefore he must exist. So the foundations of his philosophy is “Dubito ergo, Cogito ergo, sum”. Which translates as ” I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”.

So Descartes doubted sense perception. But he believed in thought. So in his philosophy “Thinking” is real knowledge. Sense perception is unreliable. He put forward the wax argument. He touches a piece of wax- it has a certain shape, feel and colour. He then places it on fire- immediately the shape, feel and colour changes. His senses( eyes, touch etc) tell him that this new form of wax is different from the old form. But the mind tells him that it is the same wax. So the senses have been fooled but the mind perceives the real truth. The perception of wax is not “a vision or touch or imagination, but an inspection of the mind”.

The method of critical doubt is of great philosophical importance. In fact if applied in a healthy manner, it is the basis of the modern Scientific method. But of course, the doubting has to stop somewhere( or for sometime) for this method to be useful. In Science it stops at experimental verification. In Descartes’ original philosophy it stopped at “I think”.

And finally let’s end by some quotes from the doubter himself:

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

“It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.”

Kanwar

|=============================

=========================|
Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.