The New York Times today provides an interesting “history-in-a-nutshell” perspective on the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC):
Particle colliders get their magic from Einstein’s equation of mass and energy. The more energy that these machines can pack into their little fireballs, in effect the farther back in time they can go, and the smaller and smaller things they can see. The first modern accelerator, the cyclotron built by Ernest Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1932, was a foot in diameter and boosted protons to just 1.25 million electron volts. CERN, a 20-nation consortium, grew from the ashes of World War II and has provided a template for other pan-European organizations like the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. With a budget and dues set by treaty, CERN enjoys a long-term stability that is the envy of American labs. . . . The [CERN] collider was designed to investigate what happens at energies and temperatures so high that the reigning theory of particle physics called the Standard Model breaks down. In effect, the new machine’s job is to “break” the Standard Model and give physicists a glimpse of something deeper and more profound.
Something deeper and more profound? Okay. And what if it doesn’t find anything?:
The future of particle physics depends on whether the Large Hadron Collider finds anything. If it yields nothing, in the words of CERN physicist, John Ellis, it would mean that theorists have been talking rubbish for the last 35 years. Actually, he used a stronger word.
Gooey prickles and prickly goo?