After an extensive upgrade the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN on the Swiss/French border will today start sending particles into each other at speeds just three metres a second less than the speed of light.
It found the Higgs-Boson two years ago, some forty years after the English scientist Peter Higgs predicted its existence. For me that produced two reactions.
The first that our scientists, indeed our thinkers, are too often disregarded. Increasingly they are being deprived of the few pennies we once gave them to explore our world.
The second was that finding Higgs-Boson created new questions. As we all love to be fitted into a box: in this event three main boxes. The Standard Model has been accepted as a suitable starting point (of course that may be the start of the weaknesses now apparent). Then a supersymmetry concept seems to be holding centre ground, with the more dangerous multiverse competing. An outsider remains symmetry possibly because it can appear to be outside the world of theoretical physics.
The improved LHC may get us closer to an understanding of what makes our world. It will need to be a quantum leap, as dark matter still occupies too much of our unknown.
Another approach, as at Diamond, at Didcot, Oxon, looks at light using a synchrotron. It works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines.
The machine speeds up electrons to near light speeds so that they give off a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. These bright beams are then directed off into laboratories known as ‘beamlines’. Here, scientists use the light to study a vast range of subject matter, from new medicines and treatments for disease to innovative engineering and cutting-edge technology.
This pushes practical physics into new worlds, often with useful consequences.
There’s a danger with both of these wonderful machines: that was plainly stated by a US politician. The USA started to build their own version of LHC in Texas. It was bigger and better (of course) than CERN’s. They ran into technical problems, and turned to their government for funds. ‘No,’ shouted this Senator, ‘Let Europe build it, and then we can steal their results. After all, that’s what they do to ours all the time.’
I’ll not bore you by comparing Europe’s creativity with USA. We must avoid two weaknesses: that results must be economically viable within the term of a government, indeed that investigations, of any sort, need to be overly concerned with money. Secondly stop USA from plundering our resources – a good place to start would be with multinationals paying tax in the country they make sales.
I’m not optimistic.
Diamond is already proving its worth and offers immense potential (much of which will be commercially relevant). The long-term funding must be kept in place. The work at Diamond is vital to the success of the United Kingdom.