Book of Nature, Episode 10: The Large Hadron Collider

article-0-0175F60A00000578-113_634x582Dan Dawson hosts a discussion with Todd Pedlar and Charles Hackney on the subject of the Large Hadron Collider.  They have a lot of fun (maybe too much fun) discussing the science and culture around the largest and most complex machine ever built by human hands.

  • Opening banter about the weather (again, what else?).  Dan finally figures out where Charles lives. Someone should give him a medal. Unfortunately he also didn’t know who Leonard Cohen is, causing an outpouring of incredulity from Charles and Todd.
  • Listener feedback!  Another vote for an episode on statistics. Keep it coming folks!
  • Dan opens with a bunch of gee-whiz facts about the LHC and why it’s a big deal.  For more background, see here.
  • Todd waxes ecstatic about the science behind the LHC.
  • Charles goes into quite some depth about the history of the LHC and the idea of big modern scientific machines as a type of cathedral.
  • Dan talks about staying up all night on July 4th, 2012 to watch the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson.  Todd gives a brief primer on the various particles in the Standard Model and the special nature of the Higgs Boson.  Along the way, he expresses the particle physicist’s disdain with the “God Particle” moniker.
  • Charles talks about the interesting prevalence of religious, even theological language, in the fields of cosmology and particle physics.   Dan and Charles discuss the contrast between the hubris of the builders of the Tower of Babel and the divine spark of creativity that is part of attempting to “reach to the heavens” through fundamental physics research.
  • Dan and Todd talk about what the LHC has in store for us next, now that we’ve found the Higgs Boson.  Is there anything else out there “beyond” the Standard Model?  Supersymmetry?  Extra dimensions?
  • The trio wrap up the discussion by talking about the drive to build bigger and ever more expensive particle accelerators and other machines to explore the frontiers of physics.  The possible “Great Collider” in China which would be several times more powerful than the LHC is discussed.  Charles points out the many surprising practical benefits the seemingly esoteric field of particle physics has brought to society.  Here are some examples.
  • Parting thoughts. Next up: “Why science needs metaphysics”.  Also, we really need to come up with a catchy slogan!

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