CERN, the most advanced physics laboratory on earth, announced on July 2012 that they had found a particle that behaved like the Higgs boson, a particle predicted almost 50 years ago to exist. This discovery has brought with it the possibility that the Higgs boson may be responsible for all the mass in the universe and that if it does really exist scientists can unravel the mystery and origins of the universe a little more.

Until the 18th century there was no precise distinction between philosophers and scientists. Philosophy and science merged when the ancient philosophers shaped science and improved scientific methods as we know today. Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna (Ibn-i Sina) and Descartes are a few of the greatest known philosophers in history. Most of the prospering scientists in different disciplines have been inspired by their works. For instance, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilee, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein, all highly regarded physicists, were heavily influenced by the works of ancient philosophers. All of the aforementioned physicists tried to understand the physical laws that governed energy, time, and space. Even now, modern physicists are still trying to answer some of the most important questions: What is the nature of the universe and what is it made of? Are there undiscovered physical laws of nature? Are there extra dimensions of space? How can we solve the mystery of dark energy?

Today, in order to understand the composition of matter and how the universe was created, the most prominent particle and high energy physicists are designing huge particle accelerators and detectors. Particle accelerators, also known as atom smashers, are devices that use electromagnetic fields to propel a group of charged particles (ions) to high speeds and collides them with other moving particles or a stationary target composed of a bunch of particles (http://public.web.cern.ch). Particle detectors (radiation detectors) are used to detect, track, visualize and identify particles produced from reactions in accelerators. Scientists analyze the results of the collisions and try to understand interactions between the basic constituents of matter. This is the basis of understanding the components of the universe. The largest and most complex of these scientific instruments is located at CERN, the most advanced physics laboratory on earth. Egin Lillestol, a particle physicist from the University of Bergen (Norway), says that [1] there is nothing quite like CERN anywhere else on earth.

What does CERN stand for? CERN is the French acronym of Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire which means European Council for Nuclear Research. It was founded in 1954. It attracts physicists and engineers from all over the world. According to CERN’s sources, half of the world’s particle physicists, about ten thousand scientists, are either doing active research or visiting there. They all work together toward their common goals of advancing technology, answering questions for better understanding the material world and training future scientists. CERN has also seen the development of many practical scientific applications other than those involved with high energy and particle physics. For instance, the world-wide-web was invented at CERN to allow international scientists to communicate and share their ideas more easily. From 1954 to present, scientists at CERN have received Nobel Prizes in Physics including Sam Ting, Burt Richter, Jack Steinberg and Georges Charpak.

CERN hosts the largest and highest energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is twenty-seven kilometers in circumference and about one hundred meters under the ground. The LHC enables scientists to collide two groups of particles such as protons and lead ions. Physicists analyze and study the particles that are created in the collisions to study conditions just after the Big Bang, the phenomenon that is believed to form the universe 13.7 billion years ago. Many people in the world are looking forward to see the results the LHC will be producing.

CERN: Black holes
Some people have expressed concerns about the safety of the collider at CERN. The biggest concern is whether or not an atom-smasher as big as the LHC could create black holes and destroy the earth. In 2003, LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) reported that the possible production of vacuum bubbles, magnetic monopoles and magnetic black holes at the LHC have no real risk. However, concerns about the safety of creating micro black holes in such a high energy particle accelerator have surfaced in the media for many years. Some media sites claimed that a black hole would be formed and destroy everything. Others announced that the LHC might cause earthquakes. According to the administrator of lhcfacts.org, a website in which scientists discuss the lack of safety at the LHC, the possibility of creating a micro black hole at CERN cannot be ignored, and there are two predictions about what that micro hole would be: according to the more optimistic outcome, the micro black hole evaporates before becoming a threat. According to the second prediction, however, the hole could grow quickly and endanger Earth. Eventually, the LSAG finished the discussion by reaffirming and publishing a second review which reports:

“The possibility of creating micro black holes at the LHC is at the rate of the order of one per second. These are harmless because they would quickly decay by hawking radiation (thermal radiation) according to standard calculations. They decay before even reaching the detector.”

Moreover, these kind of events, even with higher energies than those created in any man-made atom smasher, occur naturally and routinely in the universe. For example, ultra high energy cosmic rays (particles created in outer-space) come into contact with Earth’s atmosphere without any hazardous consequences. In brief, American physicist Karen D. Camarda said "If anything bad was going to happen, nature would have already done it.”

CERN: Higgs Boson
Another case which has dominated world news headlines mid-2012 was the Higgs boson, otherwise known as the “God particle.” What exactly is the Higgs boson and why is it called the God particle? The Higgs boson is a yet undiscovered particle which is taught to be a mechanism for how subatomic particles acquire mass. Most likely, it has a mass between the regions 115-130 GeV of energy. The Higgs mechanism was postulated by British physicist Peter Higgs in 1960s. The theory hypothesizes that the Higgs field, a kind of three dimensional frameworks, fills the universe. A particle borrows mass from the Higgs field when it moves through it. This is similar to the process that an electron undergoes as it gains mass when it passes through a positively charged crystal lattice of atoms. The “God particle” was coined as a nickname of the Higgs boson after Nobel prize winning physicist Leon Lederman published his popular science book in 1993 with the title of The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? Lederman said he gave the particle this nickname because it is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter” [2]. To explain further, the term “God particle” is more applicable to marketing than to science and theology. According to many scientists, calling it the “God particle” is inappropriate because it does not have any connection with God or any religion. Many wonder what will happen if scientists find the Higgs boson. Brad Hirschfield, President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership said in his article [3] in The Washington Post:

“While not exactly a theory of creation, finding the God Particle would bring us closer to an understanding of the fundamental processes that govern physical existence.”

Furthermore, some scientists admit that exploration in this field will be far from over even after the Higgs boson is found. Instead, the discovery will open doors to newer and more complex questions. For instance, Michio Kaku, the co-founder of String Theory, asserts [4] that finding the Higgs boson is not enough. He says that “we are at the beginning, not the end of physics. The adventure continues.” In spite of these sentiments, some people, including myself, believe that the discovery of the Higgs boson might reveal a very large missing piece in the physics puzzle.

Acknowledgment: This article is produced at Mergeous [5], an online article and project development service for authors and publishers dedicated to the advancement of technologies in the merging realms of science and religion.


Kara is a freelance pop-sci writer pursuing a PhD in Physics.

References

[1] CERN, “A Unique Experience,” http://user.web.cern.ch/

[2] Lederman, Leon M. 1993. The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?: A Tale of Two Particles and the Ultimate T-Shirt, Bantam Doubleday Publishing Group.

[3] Hirschfield, Brad. 2011. “The ‘God Particle’ and God,” The Washington Post.

[4] Kaku, Michio. 2011. “The ‘God Particle’ and the Origins of the Universe,” The Wall Street Journal.

[5] Mergeous, Online article and project development platform, http://www.mergeous.com

[11] DOE/NSF, High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, Quantum Universe, The Revolution in 23st Century Particle Physics, 2003.


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