Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Swinging the lead

The scientists at the LHC experiment in Switzerland have successfully created the hottest, densest matter collisions so far achieved by us puny humans, by smashing lead Ions together at phenomenal energies and speeds they managed to create a plasma made of quarks and gluons at temperatures of ten trillion degrees.

These are the conditions thought to be present at the big bang, or at least just after it, and understanding how matter behaves at these extremes will help us understand more about how we got here and the fundamental natural laws that govern matter and energy in the universe.

Some people argue that the huge sums of money spent doing things like this are wasted, they ask who cares about quarks and gluons? They'd presumably rather spend the money on more immediate human needs, or perhaps things that they can personally understand more easily. I can sympathise, superficially it does seem like we should spend all our spare money on vaccinations and food for African children, but reality is much more complex than that. My own view is that science and the desire to "understand" is actually a basic human need, less pressing perhaps than acquiring a square meal every day, but certainly easily up there with things like art, music and literature, without the desire to discover new things I think we become entrenched, stale, self obsessed. It seems like the need to "understand" is an innate property of conciousness, certainly whenever it has been suppressed in the past by religions, governments or dictators, human suffering seems to increase; and just like in the game of whac-a-mole, it always emerges again somewhere, somehow.


Chairman Bill said...

I just hope quarks and gluons will assit me in getting my roof on.

I can't really see some dwarvish character with an overdeveloped acquisition complex from Deep Spice Nine really providing anything in the way of assistance, but gluons sound promising. Can they be used on fascia boarding to stick it to the rafters?

Steve Borthwick said...

CB, Not sure the quarks will help, but I'm sure the strangeness and the charm will be more than adequate ;-)