Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Particle Physics: Brilliant!

A Blog post by Patrick Redmond

One of the problems with doing a podcast is that you get to hear your own voice a lot. Each episode takes a surprisingly long time to edit and it can be tortuous if, like me, you’re not keen on hearing yourself speak. One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself is a tendency to enthuse, to pronounce things frequently to be “Fantastic” or “Brilliant” like that Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show.

This is partly inevitable given that I tend to pick subjects and people about which I am genuinely interested and excited. So it comes out in my attitude. The problem comes when you tackle a subject like the Atlas Experiment. How can you talk about the biggest and coolest experiment in the world without slipping into superlatives?

I had the privilege to talk to physicist Steve Goldfarb who works at the Atlas Experiment. The excitement of those working on this is almost palpable as they push at the frontiers of what we know. There is a real sense of a continuum of knowledge as they build on the legacy of earlier physicists and scientists adding to our understanding of the origins and workings of the universe.

The Atlas Experiment is the largest particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider. As billions of protons clash within the detector they gather the data from the most likely suspects and piece together the evidence searching for what might or might not be there to answer some of the most fundamental questions about matter and the universe.

Everything about this project is astounding. From the magnificent physical scale of the mechanical equipment to the the subatomic stature of the objects observed and the breathtaking scope of the possibilities within its reach, it is amazing. Not everyone feels the same about particle physics I know. Have a look at these comments from the Fox News website, brought to my attention by @kashfarooq.

Thankfully though the human race will continue to progress thanks to science and scanner101 and flowerpot will be able to reap the benefits regardless.

The other great thing that you get from talking to Steve isn’t just the passion for the project but the insight of what it's like to be one of the the community. They’re people that work hard but they also play hard. It’s a working, living group of people. For instance one of the things that Steve does in his spare time is to play in a blues band called the Cannettes. They play traditional blues but they’ve managed to combine their love of physics and music in some of their songs.  I’ve included a copy of The Atlas Boogie at the end of the podcast, but it’s well worth having a look at the video. Listen to the podcast and enjoy the video embedded below.

Patrick Redmond - Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub

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