Tuesday, January 05, 2010

What the LHC Could Reveal

This is a terrific opinion article in the LA Times written by Steve Giddings regarding what one can expect out of the LHC. Note that the LHC wasn't built JUST to look for one thing. No one in their right mind would build something THAT expensive just to look for the Higgs. That would be absurd. There are other equally, if not more, fascinating searches that will be conducted.

It is worthwhile to note his point at the end in terms of the cost of building such a thing:

All this may seem like impractical and esoteric knowledge. But modern society would be unrecognizable without discoveries in fundamental physics. Radio and TV, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PCs, iPhones, the GPS system, the Web and beyond -- much that we take for granted would not exist without this type of physics research and was not predicted when the first discoveries were made. Likewise, we cannot predict what future discoveries will lead to, whether new energy sources, means of space travel or communication, or amazing things entirely unimagined.

The cost of this research may appear high -- about $10 billion for the LHC -- but it amounts to less than a ten-thousandth of the gross domestic product of the U.S. or Europe over the approximately 10 years it has taken to build the collider. This is a tiny investment when one accounts for the continuing value of such research to society.

But beyond practical considerations, we should ponder what the value of the LHC could be to the human race. If it performs as anticipated, it will be the cutting edge for years to come in a quest that dates to the ancient Greeks and beyond -- to understand what our world is made of, how it came to be and what will become of it. This grand odyssey gives us a chance to rise above the mundane aspects of our lives, and our differences, conflicts and crises, and try to understand where we, as a species, fit in a wondrous universe that seems beyond comprehension, yet is remarkably comprehensible.

Can't say it any better. Research in fundamental knowledge has yielded not only advancement in our understanding of the world we live in, but also enhanced the economies of many countries and societies that invested in it. And this is all done at such a puny amount of money when compared to the benefits, both directly and indirectly. The amount of money that was given out during the financial institution bailouts last year alone could have sustained full-throttled physics research in the US for decades.


1 comment:

Michael said...


yes, this is a beautiful account of why we do LHC physics, and I am glad that you posted it. Bravo to Giddings and to the LA Times for publishing the article!