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Science of Days Past - A Recovering Physicist's Apology

About Science of Days Past

Previous Entry Science of Days Past Sep. 10th, 2008 @ 04:18 pm Next Entry
The Large Hadron Collider was turned on today and the first tests were successful. This is monumental news. The LHC may locate the the Higgs Boson the at present theoretical particle that acts as the carrier particle for mass.

The other possibility would be that the LHC could create Strangelets in sufficient quantity to test the "strange matter hypothesis". The strange matter hypothesis suggests that a more stable form of matter would consist of an equal number of up, down, and strange quarks. Most matter by weight in the known universe (protons and neutrons) consists of either 2 up and 1 down quarks (proton) or 2 down and 1 up quarks (neutron). Certain strange particles have been artificially made (for example, the lambda strange particle consists of an up, a down, and a strange quark), but such exotics do not last long. The theory being that there simply was not sufficient number to reach stability. Strangelets are an interesting topic of theory as the Paulii exclusion principle would allow them to be at a lower energy state than "ordinary" matter, it is strange then that we do not see more (none that I am aware of) strangelets in the natural world because nature always seeks the lowest energy state.

As thrilled and excited as I am for results from the LHC, I am also a bit saddened. It is just another reminder that Big Science is here to stay. The days of scientists toiling in their modest laboratories and making monumental contributions to a field grows closer to an end every year, perhaps it is already an anachronism. The cutting edge seems to require more-and-more expensive equipment. No one is going to build a LHC in their garage. They may stumble upon the mathematics required, but the actual experimental work is out of reach.

The LHC also depresses me because it seems to signify an end to American science. Once the forerunner of the world, we are being relegated more and more to R&D. One of the least talked about aspects of the Bush Administration is the Privatization and Corporatization of science. Corporations have no interest in real science. Science has no aim, no goal persay. It takes us where it will, where we are ready to understand. It is a scalar - all magnitude and no direction. Research, on the other hand, is a vector it is all about getting from here to there, direction and magnitude. Corporations do research, not science. Companies are interested in how to make the bridge hold up better, eggs not stick in the pan, or get more storage space on a chip. All noble and lucrative endeavors, yes, but science? No. They don't do science, they do engineering. Then there is the state of our schools and our populous' understanding of even the most basic of concepts. It scares me that we don't believe in science anymore and we certainly don't fund it.

I guess I dream of science past.
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