Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still Alive

Well, we all still seem to be alive this morning.

And no, this is not going to be some 9/11 anniversary post. There will be plenty of others writing those if you want to go find them.

No, this is post is actually about the fact that we all woke up yesterday. Yesterday, the giant particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva was powered up and run for its first experiment. Yes, I am a geek, and yes, I find this cool!

Without making any claims at being fully knowledgeable about CERN and particle accelerators, in basic terms, as I understand it, they use a bunch of very strong magnets to send atoms flying around a giant underground circular tube, 27 kilometers long. And then they smash these atoms together to see what happens. They measure the results with uber-powerful lasers. They're hoping to find out more about the way gravity works, what the universe looked like one-trillionth of a second after the Big Bang (the cosmic one, not the Annabel Cong one - no, I'm not going to tell you more about that, you're going to have go look it up yourself!), how time works, and other physicsy type things.

While all of this is certainly very interesting and worthy of pursuit, what I find fascinating is the CERN project itself. For example, did you know the lasers they're using have enough energy to punch though a ton of concrete? True. The most interesting, however, is what they expect to happen - they have NO idea! That's right, when they fired this thing up, they didn't have any idea of what was actually going to happen! Hence, my statement about us still being alive.

If you want to check out more, here are some links:
The CERN website
The CERN Wikipedia page
A recent TimesOnline article

And for a more humorous take, PhD Comics is running series on CERN, based on artist's tour of the facility. Start here. This is a five part series, which started on Tuesday.

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