Monday, 9 November 2009


Bosons: small but fascinating
Anyone with a passing interest in science will know that the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will start operating pretty soon, after the odd false start. This monumental machine will move science forward in ways that are tremendously important, more mysterious than a UK government budget, and eye-poppingly expensive, obviously, as it's a European project.

I have done some research. I now know what hadrons are. They are not the invisible villains that Captain Scarlet struggled valiantly against - those are Mysterons. No, hadrons are tiddly1 bits of atoms, composed of even tiddlier quarks2.

'Large'? It ought to be called the Absolutely Gobsmackingly Enormous Hadron Annihilator. It's a circle 27 km in diameter, like the North Circular Road, but quite a lot faster. It's got to be terrifically cold, so that the magnets can superconduct; a bit like Andre Previn in a freezer.

This all persuades the unlucky hadrons to hurtle round at huge speeds and then WHAM! They smite each other mightily, producing energetic and wacky particles that we can then observe, if we have the right sunglasses and a high-quality magnifying glass.

It costs about £4.5 billion. A mere bagatelle; the Bank of England could Quantitatively Ease that much in about a week.

Could it go wrong? There is a risk that it might produce a black hole, which would obliterate all matter within a 100 km or so. For this reason it has been built in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. Wales was ruled out because all the documents would need translating into Welsh and it's already quite tricky enough, thank you very much.

What's it for, you may well ask as you fill in your tax return? Ah. We are on a quest for the Higgs Boson. This produces the Higgs field, which allows us all to have mass. Most of the Higgs bosons disappeared very soon after the Big Bang. Problem. If there are no Higgs bosons then we will get lighter and lighter, and eventually float off into space.

So the LHC will produce a steady supply, gluing us all to the Earth. Because it's been paid for by the taxpayer, Higgs bosons will be provided free of charge, except in America where you will need to buy Higgs insurance. Unless you are poor, in which case you'd better not plan to go outdoors anytime soon.

1 - To give you an idea how tiddly, if we used hadrons instead of sugar to sweeten our tea, then the question 'one lump or two' would need to be '1024 hadrons, or a multiple thereof'? If you then put them in one at a time, as fast as you could, your tea would be cold by the time you got to drink it, but you wouldn't care because you'd be long dead anyway.

2 - If you think that's a Star Trek character, just stop reading and look at the picture.


  1. RapidEyeMovement9 November 2009 at 15:39

    It's the end of the world as we know it.

  2. Costa Rica Helicopters Web Site Fan9 November 2009 at 21:06

    Splendid stuff after that cat science fiction twaddle. More of the same please

  3. So without this we float away? What happened before it?

  4. Oops. Good point ReadingThis.

  5. At last a sensible response to UG from the media with some proven scientific facs
    cthuluhu fthagn, ya!

  6. As ubergrumpy well knows the LHC may have started out to find the Higgs Boson but it is actually the only way the Federal Swiss (who have to have a referendum on everything and keep a cow in a cupboard - or was that a rifle) can get to have a mag-lev train - hence the size. It is a bit like us putting in the Jubilee line and taking the opportunity to build a load of nuclear bunkers (I kid you not).

  7. As an American, I can't wait to purchase my Higgs insurance. Can you recommend a carrier?