I used to know someone whose husband was a scientist at CERN. Sara would often shake her head in frustration and say some variation of this speech: "All the time you hear people say 'Well, he's not exactly a nuclear physicist, is he? when they want to indicate that someone's not all that bright. Like being a nuclear physicist is the Gold Standard of geniushood.
But I've got to tell you: I live with a nuclear physicist day in and day out. And most of our friends are nuclear physicists. And you know what? They're NOT all that bright. They know stuff about physics, but that doesn't mean they can program the VCR or even tie their own shoes. Honestly!"
I have to admit that I was (and am) one of the guilty ones that succumbed to the physicist mystique. They have the ability to really understand things that just make my brain hurt.
And NOW, just a short distance from my home, the big brains over at CERN will soon be turning on their very new, huge and wonderful Large Hadron Collider!
What is it?!?!
The LHC is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, that's what it is.
It's a huge underground ring (3OO feet down and 17 miles long.) that will be making particles smash into each other. Somehow this is going to tell us stuff like why matter has mass.
It's all a bit beyond me, but fascinating. One thing that did actually help a bit was watching this:
It's a very funny, yet strangely informative rap song that explains it all much better than I ever could.
For a more serious treatment of the subject, go here to the CERN site. All is explained in a soothing British accent that makes everything seem lovely and simple, like a Winnie the Pooh story. And tomorrow morning at 9am my time, you will be able to click the link and watch live webcam coverage of the first moments of the LHC in action!
What can I say? I'm just a wannabe science geek.
BTW: There has been a tiny amount of concern that the HLC would cause black holes to be created, which could, um, potentially destroy the entire planet. This possible downside to the experiments has caused hate mail and death threats (often full of grammatical errors, I might add) to be sent to CERN scientists.
But most educated people think that this will NOT happen. IF any black holes formed at all, they would be so miniscule that they couldn't possibly leave us all dead and homeless, besides.
So, that's ok, then.