Capturing Truth

Honey in Tea and the LHC

On a cold autumn day, when the leaves turn golden and fiery, nothing warms one better than a cup of hot tea dabbled with honey as one sits next to a loved one. Add a fireplace aglow with burning logs, and the picture is complete.

‘Tis easy to construct such a picture and make it a reality, but sometimes life isn’t quite as picture perfect. Take for instance the Large Haldron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland, which was the organized effort of over a hundred different countries and billions of dollars. It was first turned on September of 2008, and the first protons were fired through the circuit. The purpose of the LHC is to shoot protons and neutrons at ridiculously high speeds in order for them to smash into each other and break apart into smaller particles. Protons and neutrons are both made up of quarks, and these quarks are released in the collision along with some energy. Scientists hope that if they smash enough protons together, they’ll finally be able to find some of the hidden particles that the current Standard Model says exists such as the Higgs Boson. What is the Higgs Boson? A simple explanation is that the Higgs Boson is the creator particle. Basically, the one that imbued all the other particles with their mass. Pretty important particle there, and if found, ah what a celebration for physicists.

However, despite the LHC being able to shoot protons down its circular pipeline, a magnetic quench within its structure caused nearly a hundred magnets to break only a week after the first round of tests forcing a shut-down.

What is a magnetic quench? The physics of this involves a discussion on superconducting magnets, magnetic fields, and discharges of a high amount of voltage. The force and energy involved in the LHC created a large amount of stress for the bending magnets in one of its many sectors, and the magnets couldn’t handle the stress. It was an engineering flaw overlooked in the original design. A quench is a bit disastrous in the sense that not only can it ruin the magnets, but it vents a ton of heat so causes damage to whatever is around them. No one was harmed, but it was a big enough accident to warrant shutting the whole project down for repairs. It’s scheduled to reopen in November of 2009.

However, this past year has given scientists much time to speculate on this incident. In particular, a pair of scientists: Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics, theorized that perhaps the reason for this accident is due to the Higgs particle itself. In a few different papers, one titled: Search for Future Influence From LHC, submitted to the Cornell University on-line library within the last year, these two scientists explore the idea that the creation of a Higgs Boson disturbs nature to the point that its creation alone sends ripples back in time to wreck havoc with the instruments used to create it, thus preventing its creation. Did that sentence boggle your mind? It should. This is time travel at its greatest – like the “going back in time to kill one’s grandfather paradox.”

What is the “Kill One’s Grandfather paradox?” That, my friend, is the idea that if one could time travel, then what if that person went back in time and killed their grandfather by accident? Then their grandfather never would have impregnated his wife, who would have the person’s mother, who would later birth him. So then would he cease to exist? But if he ceased to exist, then he never would have gone back in time to kill his grandfather, so then his grandfather would survive, and his mother would be born. And so the cycle continues again. This paradox and a few others – can you think of what they could be? – are some of the main arguments against the idea of time travel. Ironically enough, Einstein’s theory and even Newton’s doesn’t really have much against the concept of time travel.

As for Nielsen’s and Ninomiya’s theory of a future Higgs Boson sabotaging the LHC, there’s honestly no way of telling they are right unless we somehow manage to create a Higgs Boson in the Large Hadron Collider. Maybe in a few years, I’ll check back and see if the Higgs has been found. If it hasn’t and more accidents and failures befall the LHC, then maybe their crazy theory might have a hint of truth.

Or else, the Standard Model isn’t as correct as physicists might wish.

Either way, it’s moments like these, that sometimes its best to drip some honey in a cup of tea, sit back, and ponder how time-traveling particles can sabotage their own creation.

Or maybe ponder how nice crackling, burning wood sounds.

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