Friday, September 12, 2008

Of unlikely black holes and the excitement of particle physics

I'm sure you've seen all the media hype lately over the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva earlier this week. And you might also be tired of all the "end of the world" jokes over the teeny-tiny possibility that the particle physicists having all that fun with their $8-billion sub-atomic racetrack might accidently create a black hole that would swallow the earth. Well, the machine is on, no black holes yet, and the media will likely move on, shrugging its shoulders that the world is still here, almost as if they might have preferred reporting from the event horizon of a black hole; what a scoop that would be! But let's not let this teaching moment go to waste, shall we? Let's all learn some more actual physics while the topic is still hot. So, if you are still curious about the true significance of the collider and why all these physics nerds are so excited about it, you should read Brian Greene's op-ed piece in today's NYT: The Origins of the Universe - A Crash Course. And if that crash course whet's your appetite, read Sean Carroll's answer to "What will the LHC find?" where he even gives us the likelihoods of various outcomes, including the detection of the Higgs Boson (95%), Dark Matter (15%), Warped Extra Dimensions (10%), Black Holes - tiny, unstable, transient ones (1%), stable Black Holes that could swallow the earth, along with its worried crackpots (10-25%; yes, that means 0.0000000000000000000000001%), God (10-20%; indeed, more likely than the stable black hole, but not likely enough to make me go to the temple to place Pascal's wager), and a whole list of other possible known and unknown additions to the sub-atomic menagerie. Sean was also live-blogging the momentous switching on of the LHC, and you might want to bookmark Cosmic Variance if you want to keep up once the physicists actually start hurling those protons at each other in a few days (so far they've only been racing the protons all together in one direction, making sure everything is working!). If all that is a bit too much, the visual stylings of PHD comics ought to give you some relief.

Now, that should put you in the mood for the joint Biology-Physics Colloquium this afternoon at 3:00 where Fred Ringwald will talk about "Life Beyond Earth"! So if you are in Fresno, come on by, and maybe we can talk some more about all this afterwards... perhaps even over a drink!



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