Last year, I read The God Particle, Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi’s entertainingly wry flyover of the history of physics and the birth of particle accelerator science. My motivation for slotting this heavy subject into my daily commute was the impending activation of the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, the most powerful particle accelerator and arguably the most impressive scientific instrument ever built. The LHC was switched on in fall 2008, then promptly suffered technical setbacks that shut it down for over a year. But since the collider was reactivated in November, it has set about its business of breaking physics records left and right, including yesterday’s most powerful particle collision ever at an energy of 7 trillion electron volts.
Despite the excellent, often hilarious writing of Teresi and Lederman, director emeritus of Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, I still can’t claim to understand everything about high-energy particle physics. My appreciation of the field is mostly aesthetic, inspiring vague awe at the historical lineage from Galileo dropping things off the Tower of Pisa through 17-mile long circular tunnels designed to throw beams of protons at each other to simulate The Big Bang. I’m just a biologist, so I won’t hazard an attempt at explaining the ins and outs of quarks, leptons, antimatter and the Higgs boson. But I’ll do the next best thing, and link to some videos that do a good job of putting these fascinating experiments into context.
I wish this video’s title didn’t have a title that reinforces the erroneous meme about the LHC forming a black hole that could destroy Earth – I didn’t notice that happening yesterday morning. But the video itself is a great computer graphics explanation of how the LHC works sort of like a very expensive game of Mouse Trap:
Argh, this video starts out with the “black hole” myth as well, but it’s also a nice documentary that both explains why physicists are looking for the Higgs boson and offers some beautiful footage from inside the LHC. (By stating that the first experiment will take place in Nov. 2007, it also unintentionally depicts how behind schedule the project is):
And no Large Hadron Collider video post would be complete without the Large Hadron Rap: