Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bark: The Big Fizzle

Tomorrow is the big turn-on day for the Large Hadron Collider. Since very few people paid attention in school and actually have a grasp of Physics that surpasses your average fence-running squirrel, there's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the LHC might create miniature black holes. Stephen Hawking puts the probability at about 1%, but that's not stopped the Doomsayers from predicting the End of the World.

But the funniest thing I've seen on the topic is this video, courtesy of Richard.

I don't want to say anything too libelous here, but, jeez, this guy shouldn't have skipped so many Science classes in school. I love the contention that Scientist = Freemason. Do you think I should bring this up if I ever get pulled over by the Police for speeding? Though they didn't tell me which Masonic lodge I belonged to when I picked up my Physics degree certificate... funny that.

The one of the best parts is where he tries to explain what a dimension is, and gets it all horribly wrong. So Earth and Space exist in two completely different dimensions, eh? Umm... NO. No they don't. It's a common misconception that people talk about "alternative dimensions" when in fact they mean "alternative realities". Dimensions are your reference system for existence, a co-ordinate system in which we are able to perceive four dimensions (length, height, depth - the three spatial dimensions - plus time). And the four dimensions we all know about might not actually be the whole story. Supersymmetry theory predicts as many as 11 dimensions. The maths gets too complicated for most mortals (including myself) to get their heads around, but it's a neat theory - as is superstring theory, both of which the LHC experiment will hopefully be able to shed some light on.

I also think it's terrific how he dismisses the micro-black hole End of the World theory, but for all the wrong reasons. Someone should explain to this guy how mass-energy equivalence works.

But the best bit of all is the wondrous blithering on about the Van Allen Belt. Basically, they are two doughnut-spaced volumes of energised particles that have been trapped in Earth's magnetosphere, just beyond geosynchronous orbit. They are certainly radioactive and would be damaging (even lethal) if you loitered around long enough in them, but they're not impenetrable by any means. I also love the way he doesn't explain how the LHC would punch a hole in them, either. Never mind the fact that entire accelerator is underground and doesn't have an emitter. And the less I say about "strange flesh" and black holes being "satanic", the better...

I thought we'd left this kind of monumental ignorance back in the Dark Ages, but apparently not. And now these cranks have access to the internet. Just goes to show you how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

I have my own predictions about what will happen tomorrow at Cern, and they're a little more mundane than The End of the Worldtm or the descent of the Nephilim sparking off Armageddon.

Specifically, absolutely nothing will happen. They're not even going to be starting experiments until later in the year, tomorrow they're just testing the accelerator and the detectors. And since these are the largest, most complicated and expensive machines devised in the entire history of Mankind, they're destined not to work first time. Seriously, this is a Physics experiment, and when have you ever known one of those to work first time? Certainly not in my (admittedly modest) academic career.

I can pretty much guarantee that something or other will break and then it will take them six months and another half a billion dollars to fix... Still, I hope it works, because the science behind it is impossibly cool.
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