Tag Archives: Cern

Making yourself a slave

I went to college in Germany (there called Universität) and the semester fees were about 23 Marks – maybe 10 Dollars. I lived with my parents but was registered at a friends house so that I could draw state funded study support, part of which was a loan. (I still owe some of that today, by the way.)

So, I have to say, my college education was pretty – – inexpensive. At least for me personally, maybe not so for the rest of the population. But my justification was always that later in my professional life I will earn well and pay lots of taxes.

OK, the latter did not really happen. First, I was self employed most of the time and I first saw my money in my account and then had to write a check (instead of it being collected before the wage earner even sees it), and that created a rather intense resistance, so I did everything possible to avoid writing big numbers on those checks.

And second, I left Germany after just about six or seven years.

At one point it becomes acute to think about those things for my son. He is still a few years away from any college thoughts, but eventually it will be something to consider.

Now I ran into this video that paints a bleak picture of the current college situation here in the old US of A…

There is not that much to add in terms of the facts, that it really does not seem to be worth to go to college any more, but what I do want to add is the following from my very own experiences.

I studied physics and got up to the equivalent of a masters degree – 6 years. It was fun to a bigger degree, especially my little stints down at CERN, to mingle with world class scientists – for example the internet was born down there (no, it was not Al Gore!)

But I did not go into a career in science, but moved into the computer field which was just then starting to be something to be reckoned with. What later became computer science was, in the beginning, manned by physicists and mathematicians.

So, after college I never did anything much of physics. I did practice forcing my will onto computers during my college days, but this was more or less a side effect because the experiments I conducted produced lots of data and we happened to have PDP 11 at the physics chair where I did my work. My first contacts with computers, a little bit before that, I had in my spare time when I taught myself to program a big IBM mainframe (I think it was an IBM 360) through the use of punch cards. I did this just because I was fascinated by these machines not because of any career goal.

All this happened during a time when in most cases you could still do the job you trained for, for the rest of your life. With the accelerated development in technology and science that is definitely not true any more. Sure, programming the PDP 11 in assembler gave me some basis but certainly did not prepare me for optimizing web sites and writing that occasional php application. All what I do now is self-taught and did not require me to sit in some auditorium and listen to a professor who has given the same lecture for the last 20 year, who can not be replaces by something younger and more up-to-date because he has tenure.

This is why I have to wholeheartedly agree with the implied conclusions in the above video that going to college at this time is a waste of time and money, and at these costs would just make you a slave for the rest of your life. It was scary for me to learn that not even a bankruptcy can get you out of these student loans – do I see debtor’s prisons on the horizon?

Maybe my son is really smart that at his young age he is really embracing the digital world, because that might be the area that we will be living in in 10 – 15 years. You better learn how to become an entrepreneur in Second Life.

The Big Bang in your Backyard

What is the image you get when you think of a scientist?

I bet it’s usually a middle aged guy, most likely wearing a lab-coat, probably classes and definitely not cool.

But we all know by now that TED does not promote the ‘normal,’ so, when they have somebody on to talk about the Large Hedron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland we do not necessarily expect a guy in a lab-coat.

I still was positively surprised by Brian Cox’s talk. There is a cool guy who not only makes it interesting to show what the LHC does but also represents a new breed of scientist that seem to be in awe of creation and taken by its extent.

When I turned my back to physics after I was all done with my degree, the scientific scene was immensely more arrogant. So, listening to Brian Cox made me happy because I think that science will succeed when it develops the right amount of humility and recognized that it, itself, is part of that creation and is searching for itself.

You want to know where the LHC actually is? Glad you asked because it has a some fascinating facts about its location. CERN, which is also the mother of the World Wide Web, is located in two countries, Switzerland and France. The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) is located close to Geneva, Switzerland and stretches across the Swiss-France border. So, you might cross the border between the two countries many times during the day while remaining in the CERN complex. Nowadays that has not much of a significance, but when I was there it was a fascinating fact, that you could go across the border without showing your papers.

So, here it is…

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Brian Greene explains Superstring Theory at TED

In 2005 Brian Greene explained superstring theory to the TED audience in laymen’s terms in a very engaging presentation.

Three years ago the Hadron collider at CERN, which has one if its goals to confirm string theory, was still a few year away from completion. But now we are nearly there. Interestingly the public is taking notice now as voices have been raised that this machine might be dangerous. Loud voices actually, so that the CERN website for the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) has to address these concerns and dispel them…

TGVs and mosquitoes

The total energy in each beam of protons in the LHC is equivalent to a 400 tonne train (like the French TGV) travelling at 150 km/h. However, only an infinitesimal part of this energy is released in each particle collision – roughly equivalent to the energy of a dozen flying mosquitoes. In fact, whenever you try to swat a mosquito by clapping your hands together, you create a collision energy much higher than the protons inside the LHC. The LHC’s speciality is its impressive ability to concentrate this collision energy into a minuscule area on a subatomic scale. But even this capability is just a pale shadow of what Nature achieves routinely in cosmic-ray collisions.

During part of its operation, the LHC will collide beams of lead nuclei, which have a greater collision energy, equivalent to just over a thousand mosquitoes. However, this will be much more spread out than the energy produced in the proton collisions, and also presents no risk.

Microscopic black holes will not eat you…

Massive black holes are created in the Universe by the collapse of massive stars, which contain enormous amounts of gravitational energy that pulls in surrounding matter. The gravitational pull of a black hole is related to the amount of matter or energy it contains – the less there is, the weaker the pull. Some physicists suggest that microscopic black holes could be produced in the collisions at the LHC. However, these would only be created with the energies of the colliding particles (equivalent to the energies of mosquitoes), so no microscopic black holes produced inside the LHC could generate a strong enough gravitational force to pull in surrounding matter.

If the LHC can produce microscopic black holes, cosmic rays of much higher energies would already have produced many more. Since the Earth is still here, there is no reason to believe that collisions inside the LHC are harmful.

By all probability these concerns are in the same category as the fears that people would die when going more than 50 miles an hour on this devil’s machine called train. But there have been experiments in the past that seemed rather harmless and turned out to be deadly. I am thinking of Pierre and Marie Curie,
who discovered radioactivity. They did not know that this new phenomenon they had discovered was poisoning them during their work and I remember the anecdote of demonstrating their discovery to friends at a party by circulating a vial with this new substance which you could see with your eyes closed.

So, there is a chance that this microscopic black hole that might be created by the LHC does indeed attract matter and energy from its surrounding, grows and swallows the universe as we know it.

I am actually sure that this will happen, at least in a number of parallel worlds. These parallel worlds are, as far as I know, also postulated by string theory, so we are really approaching the unified theory of life, the universe and everything, a theory that contains its own annihilation – cool!

I have worked at CERN for a little bit, being involved with the old myon-neutrino experiments and I have to admit that it would be a fascinating experience to be at CERN for the first activation of the LHC. I imagine a scene similar to the setting in Douglas Adam’s ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe‘ – everybody is seated in an exquisite restaurant expecting a great show watching the universe to end.

And, you know what – in one of the parallel worlds according to the string theory to be tested – that will be so!