There has been lots of chatter recently that the upcoming press conference on Wednesday by scientists at CERN will reveal that they have found evidence that the Higgs Boson particle (I will refrain from calling it the ‘God Particle‘ as that makes physicists veins pop out of their foreheads) almost certainly exists. If this is the case, there will likely be a lot of discussion about why this is such a big deal. So in an effort to get caught up on the significance of this finding, here are some key links that’ll give you enough background information to be able to interject a fact or two at your Wednesday watercooler.
And for an even simpler explanation, Live Science offers this infographic,
After reading those links, you should be on equal footing with most people, but if you want to drop some knowledge bombs be sure to brush up on the efforts of the Tevatron Collider, which ultimately fell short due to funding issues, much to the ire of Hitler
The funding of large scale science projects, like the Tevatron or even NASA, is a contentious issue for many people, and a difficult task for scientists. I believe that much of this is routed in not wanting to spend money on projects that do not have an immediate benefit to society or a practical application. This is the so-called fundamental research, the value of which is wonderfully described and argued for over at Oikos Blog. The benefits of fundamental (as opposed to applied) research are often difficult for scientists to articulate and for the public/funding agencies to accept. Fortunately, Aaron Sorkin (whose Sorkinisms can be seen here) dealt with this issue on an episode of The West Wing, Dead Irish Writers, wherein a particle physicist (Millgate) is making his case for funding for a supercollider to a reluctant Senator (Enlow) and the Deputy Communications Director (Seaborn) is able to but a spin on it. Here is the exchange,
Sen. Jack Enlow, D-IL: If we can only say what benefit this thing has. No one’s been able to do that.
Dr. Dalton Millgate: That’s because great achievement has no road map. The X-Ray is pretty good, and so is penicillin, and neither were discovered with a practical objective in mind. I mean, when the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless. And now we have an entire world run by electronics. Hayden and Mozart never studied the classics. They couldn’t. They invented them.
Sam Seaborn: Discovery.
Dr. Dalton Millgate: What?
Sam Seaborn: That’s the thing that you were… Discovery is what. That’s what this is used for. It’s for discovery.