Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Half Century Later

Greetings All:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences just awarded the Noble Prize for Physics.  The winners are Peter Higgs, and Francois Englert, British and Belgium scientists.  To the winners, congrats.  I admit that I am not a big science guy.  I suspect that comes from my days in school when I found subjects like math and science (and their pesky precise answers) annoying.  I much preferred essay exams where I could...elaborate on my opinions.  (Kinda like doing a blog, I suppose.)  However, in recent years, I have come to appreciate exact answers.  I suppose it is because the older I get, the harder they are to find.  I also respect science for what it is-facts, and what it is not, an unending sequence of fixing blame on others (and why yes, dear elected leaders in D.C., that's y'all...) 

Back to our winners, they are being credited with putting forth the Higgs boson theory.  Here is why this is such a big deal and why Higgs and Englert were chosen for this award.  I am going to cite from this BBC article for the next couple of paragraphs:

  "In the 1960s, they were among several physicists who proposed a mechanism to explain why the most basic building blocks of the Universe have mass.  The mechanism predicts a particle - the Higgs boson - which was finally discovered in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, in Switzerland." 

Now, here's the interesting part, at least to me:  The idea was about a half-century ago.  It took about that long for the actual LHC (whatever that is but I am sure it's a big deal) to be built to discover the particle.  To pharapase a line from the movie, Field of Dreams, "If you build it, it will be found."

There were, I am sure, numerous candidates for this year's award.  (I didn't enter.)  One may wonder what made this stand out from the other worthy projects.  The following quote caught my attention:
"This year's prize is about something small that makes all the difference," said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences."  I am not sure how there is anything "small" about a Noble Prize.  Still, often times it is small things that when properly applied make a huge difference.

And there is nothing small about how the winner's theory was proved true.  As CNN reported via its Breaking News email on October 8, 2013, it took, "...the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland,..." to make this happen.  It was through this collider that the "God particle" was discovered.  It is called the "God particle" as with it matter can have its mass. 

Here's a photo of just how big this collider is:

(Above photo from Wiki Commons, shortened URL,
public domain and/or fair use claimed)

If you are shaking your head, wondering just what the heck this whole thing is, check out this video presentation, courtesy of the New York Times. It explains it in such a way that even I got the idea.

This process took a half century.  It is being hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries in that same time.  It is simply amazing to me that for half a century an idea was thought important enough to spend the time, money and energy to seek out its confirmation.  I also think it is a fitting tribute to those who developed this idea.  Fifty years later, they receive their due 

Even for someone like myself who is woefully ignorant in science, its achievement stands out as something to applaud.  Going past the technical aspects, it is wonderful to watch mankind's pursuit of the illusive answer.  To quote the basketball coach and tireless advocate for curing cancer, Jimmy V, "Never give up!"  Of seeking to know, "why?"  Why indeed. 

I am forcing myself to write shorter blog posts so I am not going to comment on the back stories of the scientists who discovered this theory.  It's worth a Google search to learn about the personalities. Not surprising, there is a bit of controversy.  However, that is going to have to be a story for another day.

As I wrap up this post, here's a link to Wired Magazine's article about it.  I found the "trash talk" about science in the comment section interesting and a bit amusing.  Check it out if you would like.

A half century later, Higgs and Englert have their award.  Congrats gents, well done.

Be well my friends,

(The first photo in this post-An image of the Higgs Boson in action, public domain and/or fair use claimed.)

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