Thursday, September 11, 2008
The God Particle
This is a quick post to to commemorate the switching on the the Large Hydron Collider in Cern, Switzerland. What a cool piece of kit they've built. All to try and find the elusive Higgs Boson particle, also known as the God Particle.
I can't wait to see what they find!
"Nestling in the foothills of the Alps is Europe's largest laboratory, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, or Cern.
With its vast labyrinth of tunnels and equipment stretching for miles, the complex has the feel of a cathedral to science.
And now the scientists here have embarked on their biggest experiment ever, the hunt for a particle which gave the universe its form.
Its scientific name is the Higgs Boson, but because it is so fundamental in shaping the universe, others have called it the God particle.
It is a particle that is supposed to endow other fundamental particles with mass. Without it there would be no gravity, no universe as we know it - no "let there be light" moment.
No-one has seen it, but physicists have invoked it because it is the simplest explanation for how the universe evolved.
Most physicists are instinctively drawn towards theories with a simple elegance.
Reverend Sir John Polkinghorne used to be a theoretical physicist and worked with Professor Peter Higgs, after whom the God particle was named.
Professor Polkinghorne went on to become an Anglican priest. He believes the equations which describe the way sub-atomic particles interact contain a natural beauty in which some find a spark of divinity.
He said: "Physicists are deeply impressed with the order of the world. It is rationally beautiful and structured, and the feeling that there is a mind behind it is a very natural feeling to have."
It is not the first time that a scientific study of the universe has inspired awe and wonder.
The crew of Apollo 8 were so moved by their experience, they felt moved to read passages from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968.
US physicists Richard Feynman and George Smoot both described their Nobel Prize-winning insights into the behaviour of subatomic particles and the detection of the Cosmic Background Radiation as looking "unto the face of God".
Professor Polkinghorne understands why such glimpses into the underlying reality of the universe can provoke such reactions.
He said: "I think the feeling of wonder, which is very fundamental to the experience of physicists - the way they see structure in the world - is fundamentally a religious experience, whether people recognise it as such or not.
"And I think it is actually a tacit, sometimes explicit, worship of the creator."
Many of the physicists here are not religious and would disagree with Professor Polkinghorne's view.
For them their buzz is an intellectual rather than religious one. "