Monday, July 9, 2012

More Signs of the Times

The Higgs Boson: Finally! Hard evidence for its existence was announced by CERN management (Geneva, Switzerland) on July 4, 2012. Surely, this is an important addition to physicists' understanding of the stuff from which the cosmos is made; see Measurements made at CERN's ~$5 billion Large Hadron Collider were key to this endeavor.

Two days prior to this announcement, Fermilab management (Batavia, Illinois) suggested that their laboratory should have some of the credit for proving the existence of the Higgs; i.e., by dint of past measurements made with the Tevatron collider at Fermilab, even though these were recognized at the time to be inconclusive.

A few days following the CERN announcment, on Sunday, July, 8, the New York Times offered up a vulgar spoof by Christopher Buckley of CERN's achievement.

The LHC at CERN, in Geneva, is the latest in a series of increasingly large elementary particle colliders built by western countries; previously, the largest collider had been the Tevatron at Fermilab. In terms of beam energy, the LHC is ~7x larger than the Tevatron.

In the 1980's, the U. S. had planned to build a collider ~3x larger than the LHC (dubbed the Superconducting Super Collider), but this project was cancelled by Congress, in 1993; i.e., when faced with cost over-runs and a projected total cost of ~$12 billion.

The LHC will continue to take data for the next several years, presumably guiding physicists to refinements of their current theories and the elaboration of some new theories (and contingent upon the ability to maintain an annual operating budget of ~$1 billion.) Meanwhile, plans will be laid for construction of the next collider, larger than the LHC, and at a greater cost.

But, given the size and complexity of the economic problems being faced by the leading western nations, it's difficult to imagine how this would happen anytime soon; viz., perhaps not even in our lifetimes. In this regard, see thoughts by Steven Weinberg in the May 10, 2012 issue of the New York Review of Books:

The U. S. now spends ~$7 billion each year on nuclear weapons R&D, with additional expenditures expected of >$20 billion for replacement of aging nuclear weapons delivery systems; i.e., over the next 5-10 years. With a total annual cost of ~$700 billion for its various planned military operations, the U. S. may be hard put to find >$10 billion to construct another elementary particle collider.

But, perhaps the Saudis, cooperating with the Chinese and the Brazilians ... ?

No comments: