Friday, September 12, 2008

LHC, Big Bang: Mega Instrument

Progress in Science and Technology went hand in hand in the last five hundred years. That’s why you often see these two words clubbed together. But they are two different things. One can develop technology without having to understand Science. For example, one can develop a wheel or a rudimentary microscope without understanding Newton’s Laws of Motion or Laws of Optics.

First came instruments (or the technology) that helped people make more scientific discoveries. Measuring time with precision using different types of clocks and allowed people to make accurate observations paving way for Laws of Motion. Invention of microscope and telescope spawned many other branches of science - Physics, biology, medicine. Bunsen Burner helped chemists. Steam Engine spawned transport and Industrial Revolution and at the same helped in framing Laws of Thermodynamics. Invention of Printing Press helped in dissemination of knowledge thereby allowing many people to embark on pursuit of Science, and as well feed onto each other to make incremental progress. Printing Press also helped in bringing other social changes – such as Reformation and French Revolution.

Scientific discoveries and theories in turn helped in making technological innovations, like radio, telephone, television, dynamo, etc. Without better instrumentation, scientific theories would not have come forth so easily. Without science, we would not have made better technology.

Today, we see one of the biggest scientific instruments built – LHC – Large Hadron Collider.

LHC is the largest machine in the word. It is the largest particle accelerator and world’s largest refrigerator. It is the fastest place on the planet where particles will travel at 99.99% the speed of light. It also creates the emptiest space in Solar System where ultra-high vacuum is created. It has the dubious record of being the hottest places in galaxy while maintaining temperatures colder than outer space. It will record temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than Sun’s core and at the same time has a extreme cool temperature of 271.3°C (1.9 K). It has the most powerful supercomputer in the world called Grid, where more than 100,000 dual layer DVDs will be recorded every year. It has the biggest and most sophisticated detectors on the planet, where 600 million proton collisions per second are recorded. It has precision instruments that measure intervals of few billionths of a second, and distances of millionths of a meter.

Quest for knowledge, to know how the Universe works, has set in motion the greatest contribution of mankind called Science. When Copernicus and Galileo asked questions about the workings of the Universe, it set in motion a revolution in human history. That curiosity to know how, what and why, has helped man discover, invent and create things unimaginable few hundred years ago. Man can now fly, go into space, go deep into oceans and earth, can now travel at speeds faster than sound, be connected with anyone on the planet in a moment, watch TV, freeze food, all because of that curiosity to know how the Universe works.

This experiment, called the ‘biggest experiment’ of humankind is another step in that direction- to unravel the workings of the Universe. We need to understand that not all instruments give the results we are looking for. That’s the whole idea of Science- we try though we fail many a times.

As we increase our understanding on the Universe works, we push ignorance into a remote corner. No longer can rudimentary telescope help us in making new discoveries. We need bigger and better instruments like Hubble Telescope to see farther into Universe. No longer can we use rudimentary cathode tube experiments to know the behavior of particles. We need bigger and better machines like LHC.


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