The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘FermiLab’

Women Thinking Free Foundation Hosts a FermiLab Tour!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2010

The Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) is hosting a tour of FermiLab in Batavia, IL on Saturday, June 12th.  And you’re invited to attend!

The cost is $30, which includes the 3 hour tour (starting at 10:00 am) of FermiLab & lecture from a scientist as well as lunch at a local eatery.  To register click this link. Don’t wait too long to register, as the event is limited to the first 40 people!

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Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? Science May Now Have An Answer

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 3, 2010

Often people remark that science and philosophy deal with two different sets of questions.  I’ve heard many times that philosophy (or religion & theology) deal with the “why” questions whereas science deals more with the nuts-and-bolts kind of “how” questions.  But then you run into some questions which are kind of in the middle – and this is the region where philosophers of science focus much effort & ink discussing what they call the demarcation problem: where does science end & philosophy begin?

Let me give you an example of just such a fuzzy question, one which has been asked repeatedly down through the ages: why is there something rather than nothing?  Specifically, why is the universe (and us) here at all?  Why does it all exist?

Now, up until recently, many people would have looked at such a question as being beyond the realm of science, more appropriately categorized as one of philosophy, theology, or religion.  However, as science has advanced, our understanding of very fundamental physics related to the big bang is providing us clues as to the answer.  A little background first…

You see, recently there was a series of experiments conducted at the particle accelerator called the Tevatron at FermiLab just down the road from me in Batavia, IL (here’s a Chicago Tribune article on the experiments).  Specifically, what the physicists were attempting to do was to try to replicate the conditions of the early universe smashing counter-rotating beams of protons and anti-protons together at incredibly high energies (on the order of 1 TeV).  For those who don’t know, an anti-proton is the antimatter version of a proton – you see, the folks at FermiLab have an antimatter generation and storage facility.  Yeah, antimatter as in Star Trek 🙂

Posted in philosophy, physics denial/woo, religion, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” – Entry #2

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #2: Dr. Michael Albrow , physicist at FermiLab, talking about “What’s True and What’s Untrue in Physics Today?”

Opening joke: please take away from this that physics is much simpler than biology! 🙂

Some knowledge is as certain as certain can be, while some things are necessarily uncertain.  There is much we know is not possible, but there is much which we know is also outside of our domain.

The beginning of modern science probably started with Galileo and his conflict with the Church.  Differences between science & religion…

Science:

*distrust authority / only Nature is authority

*criticism encouraged

*all hypotheses are testable by repeatable experiments / observations

*try to fault existing theories, make progress

*theory = explanation

*disagreements are healthy

*accepted standards of statistics & evidence

Religion/Nonsense/Nonscience:

*dogmatic

*questioning / criticism not encouraged

*not fundamentally upheld to testing

*”theory” = speculation

*disagreements discouraged / when scientists disagree that mans they’re wrong

*poor understanding or misuse of statistics & numbers

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Creates “Son of God” Particle

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In honor of the recent news of the Large Hadron Collider’s successful run-up to 7.0 TeV collisions and the upcoming Easter weekend, I figure that I’d pass along a humorous little bit that I just stumbled upon.  Enjoy!

Hint: the joke is that laymen often state that the LHC is searching for the Higg’s Boson, a.k.a. the “God Particle” 😉

Near miss as Large Hadron Collider discovers ‘Son of God’ particle

Happy scientists exchanged water for wine

‘It’s not quite the God particle we’ve been looking for, ’said Professor Mann, head of the Atlas Project at CERN, ‘but it’s a miracle nonetheless.’

The particle arose from a collision between a J and an M particle in a way which no one thought possible, and the bright light created sucked in three K particles from the East.  Although it only existed for a fraction of a second, scientists are adamant that the Son of God particle will re-appear by Sunday.

‘Make no mistake there’ll be lots written about this and it will become the standard textbook for how we do things in future,’ said Professor Mann.  ‘I’ve no doubt it will lead to peace, harmony and wisdom among all men with sandals, beards and tank-tops.’

Excitement at the news was heightened when it was revealed that, on the same day, a technician in the CERN canteen opened a marmite sandwich to discover a perfect image of esteemed physicist Professor Peter Higgs.

Posted in humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Reaches 7.0 TeV Collisions

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 30, 2010

As a quick follow up to my recent post about the Large Hadron Collider, there is a new development: the LHC has now actually collided counter-rotating proton beams in collisions reaching the 7.0 TeV energy level (3.5 TeV per beam).  As the story below points out, this is the highest level ever recorded for such collisions, and – as you know upon waking up this morning – the planet has survived and no Earth devouring black holes were created in the process.  Of course, if you knew anything about the physics involved, you know that such doomsday scenarios are the purest lunacy (here’s 3 reasons why the LHC cannot destroy the planet)…

Geneva atom smasher sets collision record

The world’s largest atom smasher conducted its first experiments at conditions nearing those after the Big Bang, breaking its own record for high-energy collisions with proton beams crashing into each other Tuesday at three times more force than ever before.

I wonder how the conspiracy mongering doomsayers will react to this news?  I’ll be on pins and needles 🙂

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Breaks High-Energy Physics Record… Earth Survives

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 20, 2010

**Addendum (3/22/2010): Shortly after I wrote the post below, it came to my attention that the proton-proton beams in the LHC haven’t yet actually collided at the 3.5 TeV level yet, but I think that point is moot. It’s also true that the LHC has already conducted proton-proton collisions at greater than TeV levels (up to about 2.36 TeV, it seems)…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider#Current_results

And despite this fact, we’re all still here. Of course, I expect the scare mongers to come back with something like “But we don’t know that the planet won’t be destroyed at the next energy level!” By that same token, we don’t know that the Earth won’t be destroyed if we don’t turn the damn thing on, right?

Arguments from ignorance can be used in such silly ways. ‘Nuff said.

—————————————————————————————

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest, most complicated piece of machinery ever created by humanity.  This humongous particle accelerator also just recently broke, once again, the world record for achieving the highest-energy artificial particle collisions ever in history.  Of course, there are some conspiracy-minded scare mongers out there who maintain that the LHC is going to somehow destroy the Earth, presumably because – despite multiple reasons to the contrary – there will be some unknown, magical mechanism by which these artificially-achieved energy levels will kill us all.  In short, with no evidence or coherent theory of physics behind their claims, they’re making an argument from ignorance & saying this…

I think not – it didn’t happen in May 2008, and it won’t happen now.  As I said, the LHC recently broke that supposedly world-ending energy barrier once again, and we’re all still here.  The news is outlined in this Yahoo News story…

Operators of the world’s largest atom smasher on Friday ramped up their massive machine to three times the energy ever previously achieved, in the run-up to experiments probing the secrets of the universe.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said beams of protons circulated at 3.5 trillion electron volts in both directions around the 27-kilometer (17-mile) tunnel housing the Large Hadron Collider under the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

The next major development is expected in a few days when CERN starts colliding the beams in a new round of research to examine the tiniest particles and forces within the atom in hopes of finding out more about how matter is made up.

The collider in December had already eclipsed the record of the next most powerful machine, the Tevatron at Fermilab outside Chicago, which has been running just shy of a trillion electron volts, or TeV.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics , such as the existence of dark energy and matter. Scientists hope also to approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.

CERN has reported a series of successes since the collider was restarted last year after 14 months of repairs and improvements following a spectacular failure when scientists initially tried to get the machine going.

CERN improved the machine during a 2 1/2-month winter shutdown to be able to operate at the higher energy .

“Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC’s overall design, and the improvements we’ve made since the breakdown in September 2008,” said Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology.

It’ll be interesting to see how the scare mongering pseudoscientists rationalize away this one, but I’m sure they’ll find some way to do it.

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Large Hadron Collider Switches Back On – Earth Survives!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2009

Hooray! 😀  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe has switched back on after being offline for a year…

Europe: Proton beams circulate in Big Bang machine

GENEVA – Scientists switched on the world’s largest atom smasher Friday night for the first time since the $10 billion machine suffered a spectacular failure more than a year ago.

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late Friday in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault.

Circulation of the beams was a significant leap forward. The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

And, as I’ve blogged about before, where there is science being done by physicists via particle accelerators like the LHC, there are also pseudoscientific nuts who maintain that it’s going to destroy the Earth. Balderdash! Here are 3 good reasons why the LHC experiments are no danger to our planet.

I should also point out one more piece of good news regarding the re-starting of the LHC: despite all of the doomsday scenarios by the conspiracy-mongering pseudoscientists – the Earth survived 😉

Posted in doomsday, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Three Reasons Why the Large Hadron Collider Will NOT Destroy the Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2009

One of the things I did at Dragon*Con a couple of weeks ago was to give a talk on the physics of the Large Hadron Collider.  The last part of the talk dealt specifically with the claims that the LHC will destroy the Earth.  My response to this nonsense claim:

dont panic

No, really, don’t panic… the Large Hadron Collider is NOT going to destroy the Earth. Yes, I know what the cranks have said, and I know that words such as “black hole“, “strangelet” and “exotic matter” get thrown around to make them sound like they know physics from their buttholes… but really, it’s going to be fine.  Here’s why:

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Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Conversation with an Anti-LHC Lunatic

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 5, 2009

As a quick follow up to a recent post – LHC Lunacy & Doomsday Scenarios – I wanted to share with you an online discussion I had with a physics woo on this topic.  The conversation with James Blodgett, who seems to have a history of opposing the Large Hadron Collider on pseudoscientific grounds, is recorded on the Science & Technology subforum of the JREF Forum.

Allow me to, as a lesson in the kind of thinking employed by many pseudoscientists, point out some of the more egregious statements & arguments by Mr. Blodgett and why they are so off-base…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Real Scientists vs. Wanna-Be’s

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 16, 2009

I just got finished attending a couple of days of the joint AAPT & AAAS winter meeting in Chicago, and I must say it was an interesting couple of days! It’s always nice to attend these conferences so that one can connect with the wider scientific & teaching community out there.

While I was at the conference, I attended a fascinating series of talks on some of the latest research coming out of FermiLab, the perfect material for a total physics geek like me. The most interesting stuff at that symposium was the work being done at FermiLab on attempts to detect the Higgs boson and even dark matter!

fermilab

Briefly, the Higgs boson (also called the Higgs field) is a fundamental particle of nature which is believed by particle physics theorists to exist “beneath” all other particles. All the other fundamental particles of nature – from leptons to quarks to gluons and photons (plus many more) – interact with the Higgs field in a way which determines the mass of the particle. Those particles which interact more strongly with the Higgs have a higher mass. And the Higgs boson forms the last, big missing link in what is called the Standard Model of particle physics (kind of like a periodic table for the fundamental particles of nature). In order to complete the Standard Model, experimentalists need to find evidence of the Higgs in particle accelerators.

The speaker on the Higgs research openly stated at one point in his talk that if scientists at FermiLab or the Large Hadron Collider couldn’t ever find evidence of the Higgs, then that would be more exciting than if they did find such evidence. This is because if no evidence of the Higgs could ever be found, then it would call into question the entire structure of the Standard Model. This would then, in turn, lead to a new revolution in physics, just as Max Planck’s quantum hypothesis in the early 20th century led to the (then) new field of quantum mechanics.

The next really interesting moment came when I was listening to the scientist trying to detect dark matter at FermiLab. Briefly, of all the matter in the universe, only about 3% of it is what we call standard luminous (or baryonic) matter. Most of the rest, about 85-90%, is so-called dark matter (not to be confused with dark energy) – which is matter that emits no electromagnetic radiation at all. The only manner in which we can detect dark matter is through its gravitational influence upon normal matter. Incidentally, three big lines of evidence converge to convince us that dark matter is a reality – gravitational lensing effects, peculiar behavior of galactic rotation curves, and the motion of galaxies in galactic clusters.

However, for the physicist researching dark matter, this isn’t enough. In order for dark matter to really be established as the real thing, he and others in the scientific community want to find it in the lab. So he’s undertaking a series of bubble chamber experiments at FermiLab in an attempt to directly detect dark matter particles. And all physicists acknowledge that dark matter, as yet, has no place in the Standard Model – so this means the Standard Model only describes about 3% of all the matter in the known universe!

I’m not going to go into any more of the details of these talks, but I just wanted to mention something very important that I noted in them. In both cases, the scientists involved in this cutting-edge research were very clear to point out how little we really knew about these subjects. They also made a big point to note that they were perfectly happy to have their experiments fail to detect the Higgs and dark matter, because that would mean we have to completely rework many of our theories of physics.

Far from being rigid dogmatists, as many inaccurately portray the scientific community, these people displayed what real science is all about – putting your hypothesis on the line and letting the observations & experiments be the final arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong. Real science continually questions its assumptions.

It has been my experience that the real dogmatists are the pseudoscientific cranks, who are basically wanna-be scientists. They latch onto an idea they think is cool, but in spite of all evidence to the contrary they’ll hold onto these discredited ideas. And, in many cases, after they are unable to offer proof of their ideas, the cranks will attack the scientific community for being “dogmatic” and – sometimes – even accuse it of a conspiracy to hide the “truth”. Worse yet, some pseudoscientists propose ideas which aren’t scientific at all – because they can never be falsified – yet they want these notions to have the elevated status of science anyway. They think that by putting on a lab coat and calling their ideas science, that somehow it magically becomes science!

No amount of woo will ever interest me as much as real science. Even if these attempts to detect the Higgs boson and dark matter fail utterly, we’ll have learned so much in going through the process of scientific exploration that it will have all been worth it. And that’s what makes real science so exciting – we don’t know what nature has in store for us!

In closing this post, I’ll reference the words of a great skeptic & advocate for science, Dr. Phil Plait – astronomer & the president of the JREF – when he said: “The universe is cool enough without making up crap about it!”

Posted in scientific method, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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