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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Update from CERN

An International Team of
Journalists struggles to come up
with a metaphor for
9.9 Trillion Degrees
It's easy to get distracted from things owing to the Olympics, the presidential race, the Mars rover landing, and that pesky mildew that keeps forming on the refrigerator gasket, but in case you missed it, the large Hadron Collider at CERN has created a man-made temperature of nine point nine trillion degrees Fahrenheit.  That's trillion with a t.  If it was only nine point nine billion, you'd probably say "No, big deal," but when it's nine point nine trillion, people sit up and pay respect.  Of course, that's Fahrenheit; it's only five trillion or so Centigrade, and it is dry heat, but still it's pretty darn impressive.  We might well give a thought to these European scientists who are out there creating incredible temperatures while the rest of us are out living our lives.
Journalists have been stumped coming up with descriptions of nine point nine trillion with a t degrees.  Some favorite words are "scorching," "sizzling," and "scalding."  They might as well say it's "balmy."  Anything in the trillions of degrees is way beyond scorching.  That's like saying being stuck in the bathroom when the only toilet paper in universe is on the far side of Andromeda is "inconvenient."
You might ask yourself what benefit to mankind is achieving a temperature of nine point nine trillion degrees. You might ask yourself, but don't ask me because I haven't the foggiest.  This is only the latest achievement out of CERN, the most famous being, of course, the possible discovery of the Higgs Boson, or so-called God Particle.  I bet whoever nicknamed it that is kicking himself right now.  Call something a "God Particle," is guaranteed to attract attention like sticking a flashing neon sign on it.  Here these researchers have created a temperature of nearly ten trillion degrees, and all anyone wants to talk about is the "God Particle."  Higgs Boson is just one kind of Boson out there; there's lots of other Bosons, but you never hear about them, do you?  Does anybody even talk about CERN's discovery of W and Z Bosons in 1983, or the discovery of a direct CP violation in the NA48 experiment?  They do not.  That's the problem with the cutting-edge research biz.  If you do something run-of-the-mill, people just say, "So, still selling insurance?" and you say yes, and then you talk sports.  Or better still, they don't say anything at all.  But if you're at CERN, you're expected to come out with something new every day.  If you tell them you're accelerating particles at each other at fantastic speeds to settle questions of quantum physics and discover the origin of the universe, they'll say, "Still?  But what have you been doing lately?"  Something like creating the hottest temperature ever recorded is likely to elicit a, "Whew!  Scorching!" which is good for one conversation, then they want to know if you've ever personally seen a God Particle and what it looks like, and if you think the God Particle would be interested in meeting them.
Then the conversation turns to that stubborn mildew on the refrigerator gasket.

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