Science & Technology
The Large Hadron Collider…
The Ultimate Boy (and Girl) Toy
By Silas Wheeler
When I was a little boy, one of my favorite toys was an oval car-racing track. I vividly recall racing my cars around the track in opposite directions and gleefully watching them smash together to see what parts came flying out. So when I read about the particle-smashing machine known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), I thought, “That’s just like my car-smashing toy,” with a few differences…
- Their toy is way bigger―17 miles around vs. 6 feet around. (Considering the LHC is the biggest machine in the world, one would think the scientists could’ve come up with a more appropriate name, such as “Freakin’ Huge Hadron Collider.”)
- It’s a lot more expensive―$10 billion vs. $25.00.
- Instead of using Hot Wheels® cars going about 15 mph, the LHC uses proton beams traveling at close to the speed of light.
Which brings us to science joke #1:
A proton walks into a bar, looking dejected.
The bartender asks, “What’s wrong, pal?”
And the proton says, “I have only 1032 years to live.”
The bartender says, “Are you sure?”
And the proton responds, “I’m positive.”
After a rocky start, the LHC began smashing protons (which would be a pretty good name for a rock band) in early 2010. The scientists were looking for anything that popped out but specifically for an elusive particle known as the Higgs boson, which accounts for the mass of other particles. The Higgs boson is also known as “the God particle” but should really be called “the Kardashian particle” because we are constantly hearing about it even though most people have no idea why it’s famous.
Science joke #2:
A Higgs boson walks into a Catholic church during the Sunday service.
The priest stops it and says, “Sorry, bosons aren’t allowed in here.”
The Higgs replies, “But without me you can’t have mass.”
Science joke #3:
A Higgs boson walks into a bar, and the bartender says “Y’know, there’s a lot of people looking for you.”
Then, on July 4, 2012, the LHC scientists made their big announcement, the discovery of the Higgs. That discovery was both good and bad. Good because they’d accomplished their primary objective, but bad because it was a “Now, what do we do?” situation.
The scientists thought about it for a while until someone jumped up and said, “We’re gonna need a bigger collider! A more powerful one anyway.” They all agreed, so in 2013 the LHC was shut down and juiced up. It was ready for restart in 2015 at almost double the energy level.
However, at that level, there was concern that it could create a mini black hole that would annihilate the Earth. (You’d think there would be some really good black hole jokes but most are just “off color.” Hah!)
They discussed their concerns with the LHC lawyers, who asked, “If this does happen, there won’t be anyone left to sue us, right?”
“Right,” responded the scientists.
“Then, go for it,” said the lawyers.
Go for it they did, and the scientists are now looking for ultra-cool stuff, like parallel universes and Supersymmetry particles. Of course, there have been a number of humdrum events such as…
- A weasel got into the machine’s innards, ate through a power cable and shut the system down for a few weeks. (Sadly, the weasel died. In lieu of flowers his family requests that you send small rodents.)
- A bunch of fun-loving scientists staged a mock satanic killing on the laboratory grounds.
However, the biggest news of late is that woman named Fabiola Gianotti has been appointed the new director-general of the laboratory. It turns out that girls also like getting their toys to go really fast, smashing them together and watching the pieces fly apart.