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Tuesday, July 1

Duh-minator IV: March of the Stupid

Along the French-Swiss border there sits a 27-km ring. Situated underground, it is the product of millions of euros and years of work, and it is designed to dig ever deeper into the fundamental structure of the universe.

It is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - simply put, an atom-smasher.

It will speed beams of protons up to near lightspeed and slam them into one another while delicate instruments look for the by-products. One of the objects the scientists on the project are looking for will be the elusive Higgs Boson, a theoretical particle that may be instrumental in explaining why matter has mass. The Higgs is the only particle in the Standard Model of the subatomic universe yet to be observed, and requires a lot of energy to reveal.

Got to love pure research.

Now come the ignorant people; one objection to the LHC (including an array of legal challenges including a failed injunction) is that mucking about with subatomic particles at such high energy levels could create a micro-black hole, or create an entirely new order of matter that would destroy the entire Earth.

This despite the findings of two independent scientific boards who say that the objections is stupid.

Then comes the few religious nuts (based solely on one physicist's unfortunate tongue-in-cheek depiction of the Higgs Boson as "The God Particle"). The idea here is that no one should be mucking about so deeply into the fundamental structure of the universe. It's as if we're reading God's diary.

Today, sixty-two years ago, the United States Government decided to start testing the atomic weapon they dropped on Nagasaki (the Mark II implosion device, now the model for all nuclear weapons). Dubbed Operation Crossroads, it too had its share of naysayers and ignorant conclusion jumpers. One that particularly tickled me when I read it was a concern that the underwater test, the Crossroads Baker, would knock a hole in the seabed and cause all the water to drain out of the ocean.

Every scientific endeavour comes with at least one person who says "It'll never work, so why try it, and even if it does work it'll destroy us all."

But it's necessary to expand our understanding of the universe. It's something that we do as a result of our inquisitive natures and the cultural heritage Europe inherited. And we'll keep on digging despite stupid people.

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