July 6, 2012
If you have access to the Internet, and use it for something other than checking for winks on Match.com, you may have read how the lovely folks at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have discovered a new particle they believe to be the Higgs boson, affectionately known by us laypeople as the “God particle.” The LHC is a 17-mile tube situated a football field or so below ground outside Geneva, near the Swiss-Franco border. In this tube, ridiculously smart physicists are able to accelerate tiny particles called protons to nearly the speed of light by using 1,600 superconducting magnets, each of which weighs almost 60,000 pounds. And for these magnets to work properly, they must be cooled to a soul-crushing temperature of -456.25 degrees Fahrenheit, which is two degrees colder than outer space.
The cost to build such a tube? Around $10 billion, and it was only that cheap because there was already a tunnel there from a previous particle accelerator called the LEP. And then there are the operating costs, which include a couple of thousand physicists, staff, and one hell of an electric bill, all of which add up to about $1 billion a year…and that’s not including the ridiculously-generous vacation time afforded to those Eurowhiners on their socialist hellhole of a continent.
What’s the point of all this expensive whiz bang gadgetry, you ask? To figure out how the universe works at the subatomic level. We already know a lot of it, or think we know, but if there is no Higgs boson, we’ll have to throw out seventy-five years of work and start over. The crux of the matter is we’ve discovered all these different kinds of particles, but we don’t know why one weighs more than the other. This guy, Peter Higgs, theorized almost fifty years ago that there might be a kickass field that permeates the universe, and the degree to which particles interact with that field determines their mass. Luckily the guy isn’t dead yet, so he actually gets to enjoy the accolades generated by the fruit of his creative mind, unlike most of us writers who don’t get recognized for our talents until moss has overgrown our tombstones.
It’s natural to wonder about the practical considerations of discovering the Higgs. No one is ever going to lay their eyes on a Higgs particle, or any particle for that matter. The only way we even know about these things is to smash protons together, record the nature of the shrapnel, and then use a giant farm of computers to sift through the data and guess what it means. It’s not like the Higgs is a key that unlocks the existential secrets of the universe, despite the boson’s pop culture moniker, the “God particle.” (If you didn’t already read it in one of the myriad Higgs stories available online, the physicist who coined the term “God particle,” Leon Lederman, originally wanted to call it the “Goddamn particle,” because it was proving so difficult to find. There is no metaphysical or otherworldly nature to the particle, despite the protestations of new age crackpots and a certain novelist who happens to write for TNB.)
However, it turns out that there are a few real-world implications of this new physics discovery, and I’m here to bring them to your attention:
1) Weight loss: Have you been trying to lose that stubborn spare tire of blubber around your midsection? Need to lose 15 pounds to get into your wedding dress? Because the Higgs boson confers mass to elementary particles, all you have to do is get rid of some of your mass, and you’ll lose weight. I suggest a combination of diet and exercise to create a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day. On such a plan you can expect to lose about a pound a week.
2) Cure insomnia: Do you have trouble sleeping? Try reading the Higgs Boson Papers. If you’re not comatose by the third or fourth paragraph, you’re obviously a theoretical physicist looking for answers to big questions and shouldn’t be wasting time reading my essay in the first place.
3) Be entertained! A little more than seven years ago, I stole the phrase and book title The God Particle, and turned it into a techno thriller packed with more steamy sex than a Penthouse Forum “Best of” anthology. Of course my version of events was soapier than the actual Higgs experiments, and includes a metaphysical subplot where humans find a way to tap into the collective consciousness of a sentient universe, but it’s a lot more exciting than combing through petabytes of data describing particle shrapnel. And since I’m shamelessly promoting my own work, if particle physics isn’t your thing, try my newest psychological thriller about a man going insane…or perhaps becoming the only sane person in an insane world.
For more information about the LHC, visit their web site.
To purchase Leon Lederman’s treatise on particle physics, go here.
To learn more about Europe’s fantastic vacation policies, read this.
To read about the most ridiculous political flip-flop in presidential campaign history, go here.
To shed unwanted pounds, try using Livestrong.com to track your calorie intake. Or figure out how to rid yourself of some of those extraneous Higgs bosons.
That is all.