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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The simple large hadron collider

Wednesday at 21:31 hundred hours pm O'clock finds your favourite and most esteemed bloggeur struggling to find the way back to planet normal after being exposed to 3.748 minutes of 'Science Stories', a programme broadcast on the BBC channel currently known as Radio 4. Feeling somewhat like the victim in an alien-brainwashing episode of 'The Outer Limits', I, with my unrivalled powers of vividly articulate self-expression, am currently unequal to the task of adequately conveying the bizarre characteristics of the aforementioned programme. My elegant, delicate, sensitive, and richly bejewelled fingers hover indecisively over the keys of my immaculately maintained laptop, poised to react to the overdue instructions from a bewildered mind. Ok.. let me just  spell out what happened, and you can decide for yourself...

I walked into the chicken shed to make sure that all the old cluckers were present and correct, my intended next steps being to close the 'pop-holes' and switch-off the radio which is left-on during the day to give any passing foxes the impression that real humans are about. From the radio I heard a summary of an experiment performed in the 17th century by Hooke to determine the weight of air, which he achieved by weighing a glass cylinder before and after evacuating it with a vacuum pump, the difference between the two readings being the weight of the air removed. According to the presenter of the programme- Naomi something- the possibility that air might have a weight was inconceivable to most of Hooke's contempories. Fair enough you might think. Those were unenlightened times. It might be possible that men blinded by ignorance and religion could struggle to conceive of what we now consider to be the obvious. The presenter might be stretching the point somewhat, but a degree of hyperbole is probably unavoidable if one is to spin a radio programme out of such meagre raw material. I missed what was said next because I slipped out to give a deformed egg to the dog, but upon my return I heard the presenter describe the experiments that proved the existence of the Higgs-Sushing boson as 'almost as esoteric as weighing air'.
Now, perhaps, you will appreciate my struggle. On the one hand we have an experiment that can be performed by one person with few and simple apparatus, summarised in a line or two, evaluated by subtracting one number from another, and readily understood by the uneducated masses. On the other we have the most complicated and expensive scientific machinery ever constructed, used to generate thousands of petabytes of observational data, evaluated by millions of lines of  computer code, and explained by a theoretical model that no-one professes to understand. And according to Naomi the latter is almost as esoteric as the former...
I'm off to bed. Hopefully it will all make sense in the morning.

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