Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bang, Bang You're Dead.

Currently in our household the Large Hadron Collider is causing much consternation. I have to admit I, myself, have been rather capitivated by this mind-boggling machine. Its job (as I, an utter physics dullard - I have qualifications here: A-level physics, failed twice - understand it) is to collide protons under controlled conditions at speeds just below the speed of light in order to create explosions of energy/matter that closely resemble the circumstances of the fledgling universe right after the 'big bang' (for a better explanation try the BBC). The purpose of this is to seek out the existence of a mystery particle, called the Higgs Boson I think, which will itself help tie togther the principles of Einsteins theory of general relativity and the standard model of quantum physics. Thus bringing harmony to the world of science and proof that the 'big bang' theory is right. I practiced this mini explanation of the (clearly far more complex) experiment on my wife before going to school this week, in preperation for the inevitable questions from the kids. I definately held her attention for at least 50% of it before she glazed over - as she does with all my favorite topics of discussion: geography, football, cricket, the poor state of party politics in this country... etc. I therefore considered this to be a triumph of scientific summary. So what of the consternation...?

Well, my eldest son has also developed an interest in the LHC. However, his attention was caught not by the science but the kind of media driven, gossipy hyperbole that school-kids love so much: "Dad, tomorrow they're gonna switch on a machine that will make a black-hole that will destroy the whole solar system..."! Firstly, I'd love to see his image of the 'they' who he thinks are going to switch on this machine... davros? blofelt? darth vader? Next, I wonder when he will develop that logical thought progression which will enable him to see the futility of anyone willingly creating a blackhole to destroy the whole solar system..."Yes, at the flick of this switch the planet and all her inhabitants will be in my control; that power would set me up above the gods..." SWITCH, BLACKHOLE, DISAPPEAR... "Doh". So having put him straight (Professor Brian Cox assures me that the chances of black hole creation are slim to zero, and anyway they would be contained by the magnetic field. And I believe him, so there), with my specially designed 'brief explanation of the machine' (TM), I sat back with a feeling of Dad-work done well. We then followed that understanding with some light-hearted riffing on the consequences of a black hole. All the while my younger son is listening in and, unbeknownst to me, latching on only to words such as SWITCH ON MACHINE... BLACKHOLE... SUCK IN THE WHOLE PLANET... DOOM... DEATH... MORE DOOM... TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW... Cue one fraught son and at least 2 hours of constant reassurance. If Prof Cox is wrong, I'm gonna look a bloody idiot tomorrow.

All of which left me with one thought. If they can build a machine that replicates the origins of the universe in miniature, under controlled conditions, why the buggery can't one of these damn scientists come up with either i) a proper explanation why my bowels don't work properly, or ii) a better way of controlling IBD than intermitantly effective drugs and eventual surgery?


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