… and part two

There are actually two themes I’m continuing here. The first is the limits of our knowledge, which is a “half-empty” perspective; there’s a better way of expressing it, which we’ll get to in a moment. The second theme being continued here is special efforts made by scientists to communicate their work to the general public. The previous example (last post) was an individual contribution, though also connected to the student exercises linked to earlier at the MultipleOrganisms.net site. This one is aimed directly at public consumption, and does a remarkable job in a very short space of time.

It’s very likely that you’ve heard of the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) at CERN, possibly because of the vapid concerns over it destroying the earth that gained far more media attention than was warranted. It’s also likely that you have no idea what it is that they’re trying to do, or that you know it has something to do with the ‘Higgs Boson’ but aren’t sure exactly what. If so, this short video animation will almost certainly help:

[The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo].

As far as I’m concerned, this is a very effective presentation. Nothing fancy or flashy needed – just a good narrator and some visual assistance.

The underlying message is interesting, too – this is a realm of science that is wide open for surprises and new discoveries, and it highlights how much we still have yet to learn. In the past century, we explored nearly all of our planet’s surface and turned our eyes to the stars, reaching farther and farther out – but another faction of explorers started reaching farther and farther inwards, delving into realms that continue to get even smaller. The very word “quantum” is a reference to the smallest possible amount that something could be reduced to. The first written concepts of this considered everything to be made of five perfect geometric shapes – this was a few thousand years ago. Much later on, we figured out that everything was made of atoms, a word that means something that cannot be divided or reduced further. The name stuck, the supposed property didn’t, as we discovered the bits that atoms are made of. And while doing all this, we narrowed down the four basic forces which govern all matter – so far, anyway.

It’s fairly common knowledge now that quantum physics has rules all its own, surprisingly different from standard physics, and it’s been a huge field of study. At the subatomic level, matter doesn’t act as it does ‘normally,’ and we still don’t know why, nor how particles that behave one way form a collective atom that behaves another. There is at least one fundamental law governing this, probably more, and it’s very likely that once we find out about it all, there will be numerous new applications in materials, communication, and potentially even travel and energy.

It’s very easy to ask questions about how or why this is important, especially in the face of more immediate concerns locally or worldwide. Yet, roughly a century ago when some of the most astounding findings of both particle physics and astronomy were made, there were countless immediate concerns too, like The War To End All Wars and anarchists in the US. They’re long past now, but the science remains. We have a serious problem with repeating history, yet knowledge moves forward constantly, and the LHC stands a good chance of being the location where another leap occurs. There’s a lot still to be discovered, and for those who favor the ideas of exploration and learning, it really is pretty damn cool.

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Thanks to Cosmic Variance for the initial introduction to the video, and PhD Comics for their great efforts to communicate these things effectively.

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