Friday, April 10, 2015

Large Hadron Collider: There's More to Learn

The world's largest and most powerful particle collider, CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is back in operation.

Scientists will be studying conditions like those just after this universe began: at about twice the energies they used back in 2013.

I'm excited at the prospect of learning more about the workings of matter and energy: and news about the LHC is already starting to get goofy.
  1. Large Hadron Collider: Back in Operation
  2. India, Illinois, and All That
  3. "...Into the 'Dark Universe'..." — sort of

"...Probe Into the 'Dark Universe'..."

A month or so from now, scientists will use a giant apparatus " probe into the 'dark universe' they believe lies beyond the visible one." (Reuters)

If this was a movie like Event Horizon or Hellboy, latter-day Thule Society agents would release the Ogdru Jahad sometime around May or June, with Ragnarök slated for July.

I like rip-roaring tales, with or without conspiracy theories and Nazi UFOs. But I don't take them seriously: apart from the way some folks apparently do.

Take them seriously, that is.

Since this is a "religious" blog, I'll be discussing — briefly — how my faith relates to experiments using CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

"Tampering With Things Man Was Not Supposed to Know?"

But I won't be ranting about Godless scientists "tampering with things man was not supposed to know," or raising an alarm over their study of a "dark universe."

Calling CERN's LHC research a "probe into the 'dark universe' " is dramatic, and almost accurate: in a figurative sense.

I could be wrong, but I think it's possible — maybe likely — that someone will assume that CERN is in league with Satan, and plans to open a tunnel to Hell later this year.

That sounds crazy to me, but so does the notion that Illuminati, commies, and Hollywood studios, are plotting to conquer the world: or already have.

And so does the notion that science is evil. Some, by far not all, scientists have committed atrocities. So have members of any other profession. It's comes from our wounded nature: not from thinking too much. (February 1, 2015; November 21, 2014; August 10, 2014)

I was going somewhere with this. CERN, scientists, fear. Right.

Seriously: I do not think the LHC will open a pathway to Hell on the Switzerland-France border. That could make a nifty premise for a movie, though.

I'm a Catholic, so I take Hell seriously. It's real, a permanent separation from God, not desirable, and that's another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021-1037, 1861)

Getting back to sin, science, and getting a grip — Putting knowledge, or anything else, in God's place is a very bad idea. Divinizing something or someone that's not God is called idolatry: and it's against the rules. (Catechism, 2113-2114)

But studying this universe and developing new tools are part of being human. That's what we're supposed to do. (Catechism, 2292-2295)

Science and technology are necessary for one of our jobs: taking care of this world. Our position is sort of like shop foreman or steward, and I've been over that before. (April 3, 2015; February 20, 2015)

We're made in the image of God, rational creatures whose job description includes stewardship of the physical world. (Genesis 1:27-28, Psalms 19:2; Wisdom 7:17; Catechism, 282-289, 341, 373, 17302292-2295, 2375)

Judging from news coverage of the Higgs boson, a few years back, we're probably in for impassioned goofiness later this year. I'll get back to that.

The Standard Model — and Beyond

Articles about CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) sometimes mention the Standard Model: without saying much about it

The Standard Model of particle physics has been around for about a half-century. It does a pretty good job of describing the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, plus subatomic particles like photons, quarks, and neutrinos.

On the other hand, it doesn't include gravity, doesn't account for the expansion of this universe, and doesn't include a dark matter particle that fits what we've observed.

That's why scientists are working on Physics beyond the Standard Model.

Physics beyond the Standard Model would explain — where mass comes from; why quantum chromodynamics apparently violates charge parity; why neutrinos have mass; matter–antimatter asymmetry; and what dark matter and dark energy are.

None of that will help me pick a winning lottery ticket, avoid rush hour congestion, or get fast, fast relief from acid indigestion. But it won't shatter my faith, either.

BICEP Data and Phlogiston

The latest analysis of BICEP data shows that last year's analysis was wrong.

Scientists thought they'd detected polarization effects from the first moments of this universe. That was last year. They realized — and said — that the effects were tiny, barely measurable.

They also thought they'd accounted for dust between us and the edge of the observable universe. (September 26, 2014; March 21, 2014)

Turns out, they hadn't. Not quite. Now we know a bit more about dust clouds in our galaxy, and are back to looking for evidence of cosmic inflation:
Cosmic inflation explains how some very large-scale structures can exist. Basically, it looks like this universe expanded very, very fast: from about 10−36 seconds after the Big Bang to roughly 10−33 or 10−32 seconds after 'go.'

Cosmic inflation may be a fairly accurate explanation of what happened in those few picoseconds. But phlogiston was a pretty good way of explaining combustion in 1667.

Then, around the 1780s, new tech and analysis showed that some metals gain mass when they burn: instead of getting lighter as the "phlogiston" escapes. Some scientists said that was because phlogiston in those metals had negative mass. They were wrong.

By the end of that century, only a few chemists still used the term "phlogiston." I've talked about Joseph Priestley, the inventor of soda water and a phlogiston diehard, before. He also tried to combine theism, materialism, and determinism. Despite the name, by the way, he wasn't Catholic. (September 26, 2014)

Maybe cosmic inflation won't work, based on data we don't have yet. That won't show that science isn't right: just that cosmic inflation was a good idea that wasn't a good match with reality. (January 17, 2014)


Science and faith are both pursuits of truth. But faith isn't science; and science isn't, or shouldn't be, a religion.

I'm fascinated by what we're learning about God's universe: and see scientific discoveries as opportunities for "even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator." (Catechism, 283)

I believe that God made the universe and the things of faith, so I must also believe that honest research cannot contradict faith. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)
"...God can not deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth...."
(Dei Filius, Vatican Council I, 248 (1870) (quoted in Catechism, 159))
Faith and reason, religion and science, get along fine: or should. (Catechism, 39, 159)

We can, using the brains God gave us, figure out how this universe works. That's what science is about: and that's okay. (Catechism, 286)

Faith is a gift from God, and a human act:
"FAITH: Both a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed. It is this revelation of God which the Church proposes for our belief, and which we profess in the Creed, celebrate in the sacraments, live by right conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity (as specified in the ten commandments), and respond to in our prayer of faith. Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first commandment of God (26, 142, 150, 1814, 2087)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)
I could have faith, follow our Lord, if we lived in a tidy little universe that was only a few thousand years old. But it's become increasingly obvious that God works on a much more grandiose scale.

That's no surprise. We've known that creation was big. We just didn't realize how big.
"4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

"But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

"For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? "
(Wisdom 11:22-25)
As literally cosmic as the scale of this creation is, it's not bigger than God. Not even close

God is infinite and eternal, almighty and ineffable: beyond our power to describe or understand. (Catechism, 202, 230)

And that's yet another topic. (October 10, 2014; September 21, 2014)

1. Large Hadron Collider: Back in Operation

(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission/)
("The LHC's four big experiments will not start colliding particles until at least May"
(BBC News))
"Large Hadron Collider restarts after two-year rebuild"
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (April 6, 2015)

"The Large Hadron Collider has restarted, with protons circling the machine's 27km tunnel for the first time since 2013.

"Particle beams have now travelled in both directions, inside parallel pipes, at a whisker below the speed of light.

"Actual collisions will not begin for at least another month, but they will take place with nearly double the energy the LHC reached during its first run.

"Scientists hope to glimpse a 'new physics' beyond the Standard Model...."
BBC News isn't prone to hysterical 'and we're all gonna die' reporting — so I wasn't surprised at this article's comparative lack of drama.

Back in 2008 and 2009, a few 'experts' got their 15 minutes of fame by making — extravagant, to be charitable — claims. One said that the Large Hadron Collider would fling the Solar System into a black hole, others that God and/or a time traveler sabotaged CERN's installation — I am not making that up. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 14, 2009))

I figure we'll be treated to the same silliness this time around. Remember the Higgs boson, AKA "God Particle?" Happily, BBC News reported a bit of the real science that time around. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (December 19, 2011))

This week's article also had an — infographic? — showing where CERN's Large Hadron Collider is, and some of its experiments.

CERN's LHC: Maps and Links

(From CERN, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

The article didn't, as far as I could tell, say what Alice, Atlas, Totem, LHCb, and MOEDAL were. Maybe Jonathan Webb figured that anyone who's interested could look it up:
  • Alice A Large Ion Collider Experiment
  • ATLAS A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS
  • CMS Compact Muon Solenoid
  • LHCb Large Hadron Collider beauty
  • LHCf Large Hadron Collider forward
  • MOEDAL Monopole and Exotics Detector At the LHC
  • Totem TOTal Elastic and diffractive cross section Measurement
Some of those Wikipedia pages aren't particularly informative. Happily, that's not the only online resource:

2. India, Illinois, and All That

(From NIU Today, used w/o permission.)
"NIU physicists excited about restart of Large Hadron Collider "
NIU Today (April 6, 2015)

"Over the weekend, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator began its second act.

"After two years of upgrades and repairs, proton beams once again circulated around the Large Hadron Collider, located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland.

"It's an important and exciting project for scientists and students in the Northern Illinois University physics department and the more than 1,700 U.S. scientists who work on LHC experiments. They are prepared to join thousands of their international colleagues to study the highest-energy particle collisions ever achieved in the laboratory...."
Scientists with Northern Illinois University (NIU) aren't the only ones working with CERN's Large Hadron Collider, of course. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is an international outfit that's expanding beyond Europe.

The NIU team's leader is physics professor Dhiman Chakraborty. His NIU bio says that walking past a statue of Satyendra Nath Bose every day at his high school helped him decide on a career:
"...'I always had an interest in trying to understand the physical world, and in my high school, physics was the cool thing to do,' Chakraborty says. 'Having to walk by Bose's bust several times a day did its part as well.'..."
(NIU Today)
His high school is in Calcutta — now called Kolkata, which is pretty close to the older version of the city's name in my language. Kolkata is a major commercial, cultural, and educational center, and India's oldest operating port.

Kolkata's name comes from the Bengali name for one of three villages, Kalikata: the other two are Sutanuti and Gobindapur. Make that "were." They're all inside Kolkata's city limits now.

I could get maudlin about those three villages losing their identity, or the neighborhood I grew up in now being a parking lot. I won't, though, partly because I recognize that Heraclitus was right. (September 21, 2014)

3. "...Into the 'Dark Universe'..." — sort of

(From Reuters, used w/o permission.)
"CERN restarts Large Hadron Collider, seeks dark universe"
Robert Evans, Reuters (April 5, 2015)

"Scientists at Europe's physics research center CERN on Sunday restarted their 'Big Bang' Large Hadron Collider (LHC), embarking on a bid to probe into the 'dark universe' they believe lies beyond the visible one.

"CERN reported that particle beams were successfully pushed around the LHC in both directions after a two-year shutdown for a major refit described as a Herculean task that doubled its power -- and its reach into the unknown.

" 'It's fantastic to see it going so well after such a major overhaul,' CERN Director General Rolf Heuer told delighted scientists and engineers as the beams moved round the tubes of the 27-km (17-mile) underground complex.

"But it will be two months before particle collisions -- mini-versions of the Big Bang primordial blast that brought the universe into being 13.8 billion years ago -- begin and at least a year more before any results can be expected.

"Study of many billions of collisions in the LHC's first run from 2010-2013 produced proof by 2012 of the existence of the Higgs boson and its linked force field, a long sought mechanism that gives mass to matter...."
Robert Evans' style is a bit more rhapsodic than the BBC's Jonathan Webb's — at least for these articles. That probably has as much to do with Reuters and BBC News stylebook standards as personal taste.

Reading that scientists and engineers plan " probe into the 'dark universe' they believe lies beyond the visible one reminded me of tales like "Invasion from an Alternate Dimension!..." or "Prisoners of the Lost Universe."

It's possible that we live in a multiverse, that the space-time continuum we're in is just one of many continua.

Some of what we're learning about this universe makes more sense if there's more than one. If that's the case, the other continua most likely are so unlike ours that life-as-we-know-it couldn't exist there. Entertaining as 'parallel universe' stories are, reality is almost certainly much stranger. (September 26, 2014; May 30, 2013)

CERN's Large Hadron Collider is not designed to probe other universes, though.

Dark Matter, Dark Energy

Mr. Evans' "dark universe" is part of this universe: it's things in our space-time continuum that are really, really hard to observe. The problem isn't that they're in darkness, or are dark-colored. Dark matter and dark energy are "dark" because they doesn't do much: which makes them very hard to 'see.'

Back in the 1930s, Scientists suggested that oddities in large-scale features might be caused by dark matter, stuff that has mass, but barely interacts with energy or matter apart from its gravity.

Neutrinos are a form of dark matter: elusive little particles that interact with normal matter through gravity and the weak force: and that's it. (November 7, 2014)

There's nothing mystical about neutrinos: they're just frustratingly hard to observe.

I've harangued about neutrinos, Mayan calendars, Hollywood science, and human folly, before. (February 25, 2014; December 21, 2012; Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 16, 2009))

Bottom line, I'm a bit frustrated by science reporters who apparently don't know how or when to use Google. But mostly I enjoy living in an era when we're discovering that there's much more left to learn.

More of my take on "wonderful things:"

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.