A Chiral Universe

When the universe was newborn (just a couple of microseconds old) it displayed a handedness, or chirality, that, according to a recent article in Science, physicists are finally able to reproduce in the laboratory.  Dmitri Kharzeev and his team at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory noticed that the strong force behaves differently when things get hot enough.  At temperatures of four trillion degrees Celsius—the hottest temperature ever measured in a lab—protons and neutrons, smashed out of gold nuclei, turn into a flowing plasma of quarks and gluons.  The plasma, which behaves like a liquid, seems not to be mirror symmetric.  Continue reading “A Chiral Universe”

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No Flying Cars by 2010?!

There are some things everyone knows about the future: there will be flying cars, disease will be a thing of the past and there will be regular shuttles to Mars.  Unfortunately, in this context, “the future” isn’t well defined.  For many people living in the 1970’s, the year 2010 was “the future,” but for us, 2010 seems a lot more like “the present.”  So, frustratingly, having arrived at 2010, we still have to wait for a lunar vacation.

A recent article in Scientific American laments, “10 Science Letdowns of the New Millenium.”  Some disappointments are technological: there are no flying cars, no regular flights to Mars, and no sources of unlimited, cheap energy.  Others concern failures in research: there is no cure for cancer, no vaccine for aids, and the intricate workings of the brain still baffle our best scientists.  Still other failures Continue reading “No Flying Cars by 2010?!”

The God particle! Or is it?

The_Large_Hadron_ColliderATLAS_at_CERN_CerchiatoThe search for the elusive Higgs-boson is the driving force between the fierce, but allegedly friendly, competition between the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab. Since CERN has decided at the beginning of the month that the LHC will run throughout the winter, an otherwise unusual practice because of the high energy consumption, it probably will win the race, or so they hope.

The reason why it is so important to win that race is that the Higgs boson plays a central role in the Standard Model of particle physics, but is the only particle in that same model that is not yet discovered. The discovery of the Higgs-boson would explain the existence of mass in the universe and the distribution of mass among the particles. It sounds like something of an ultimate explanation for the last open questions in physics.

But what happens then? String theorists argue that the smallest entities in the universe are strings which constitute the particles. In their view the Higgs-boson would not be the ultimate explanation. But should not the question be if we can “ultimately” explain something at all? The Higgs-boson is called the God particle. But what do we mean by that? That God has created that particle? That the Higgs-boson is God? That the existence of the particle proves God’s existence? That God is behind the Big Bang? And if it is discovered, does physics as a discipline all of a sudden stops, because everything is now explained. Of course not, is the obvious answer for most. But why is it then called the God particle? What is that supposed to be telling us?

For those interested in news updates about CERN from the Times, go here.

For an interesting article about science and its relation to religion, read the following:

$1.99 - small Margaret Cavendish on the Relation between God and World

By Karen Detlefsen, University of Pennsylvania

(Vol. 4, May 2009)

Philosophy Compass

The LHC: a victim of sabotoge from the future?

The New York Times recently published an essay about a new theory in physics, according to which the Higgs Boson is so abhorred by the universe that the future is conspiring to prevent the Large Hadron Collider from going online.  The physicists Holger B. Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya argue that what looks like simple bad luck (or the expected complications with such an enormous project) is really evidence of the future arranging itself so as to prevent the experiment from testing for the Higgs particle.

Nielsen and Ninomiya point out that the fundamental laws of physics (at least those of Einstein and Newton) are time-symmetric.  They argue that this symmetry allows for influences from the future as well as the more familiar influences from the past.  We can contrast their view Continue reading “The LHC: a victim of sabotoge from the future?”

The Kilogram is not a Kilogram!

Though it may sound paradoxical, physicists have known for decades that a kilogram just isn’t what it used to be. That’s because it’s lighter—or at least lighter than its copies—by fifty micrograms. After all, worldwide agreement on experimental results is only possible because there are standardized (SI) units like the meter, the second, and the kilogram. But when the standard kilogram, a cylinder of metal alloy (platinum and iridium), is compared to manufactured copies (with the same composition and size), the scale tips, very slightly, toward the copy. Thus, the original has lost mass (perhaps to polishing) or the copies have gained mass (perhaps by absorbing air), but of course, there’s no way to tell which; they are the standards by which scientists would make such a judgment.

Philosophers should take note. Does the standard cylinder weigh one kilogram because scientists were careful when they made it or because it was defined that way? According to National Public Radio, Continue reading “The Kilogram is not a Kilogram!”

Extra Dimensions Restricted by Black Hole

Extra dimensions must be smaller than previously thought.
If there are extra dimensions, they must be smaller than previously thought.

Though extra dimensions may sound like the stuff of science fiction, they are taken quite seriously by contemporary physicists and philosophers of physics. In addition to the three spatial dimensions we’re familiar with — up/down, left/right, forward/back — theories such as string theory postulate as many as 7 additional spatial dimensions. If such a theory were correct, the landscape of the three-dimensionalism / four-dimensionalism debate would need reformulation; perhaps objects are really perduring eleven-dimensional spacetime worms! Continue reading “Extra Dimensions Restricted by Black Hole”