In the past weeks I have been writing a piece about the Large Hadron Collider for a science popularization magazine, and I found myself squeezing my brain for a good analogy to the work of particle hunters. The idea I had was to convey the importance of energy and intensity, two parameters which must both be maximized by a particle accelerator in order to reach deeper in the structure of matter.
Anybody who knows a thing about particle physics is familiar with the fact that the higher is the energy of a particle collider, the more massive particles it can produce. If there is a particle X whose mass is Y, there is no chance to produce it at an accelerator whose maximum energy is 0.1 times Y: you need to reach or exceed collision energy Y if you want to see X. So this looks like a concept which is not too hard to get a grip of.
Much harder is to explain why more intense beams are required to probe deeper. In December 2009, when news of the first particle collisions at the LHC made headlines, it was not infrequent to find people asking what had been the result of the experiment. It was not easy to explain that the experiment will last two decades! Intensity is needed, and time. The product of illumination and observation time is what eventually provides a better chance to make out the subtler features of low frequency phenomena.
In the end, I have put together the following analogy. I am changing the wording a bit (and thus worsening my perfect prose) because the magazine comes first, and am also summarizing it since I am taking it out of context, but the meaning is there:
"Like speleologists who in their explorations of the underground find themselves leaning on the edge of a huge unknown chasm, physicists explore all the territory they have a chance to light up with their lamps. To see further, they need more powerful lamps, capable of illuminating deeper, puncturing the darkness of the cavern. But their light also needs to be as intense as possible, and to shine for longer time, to allow them to make up more clearly what they are illuminating."
Of course, the analogy is imperfect because for light, intensity and energy are rather interchageable concepts. Maybe by thinking along the lines I have provided above, some of you may suggest a smarter analogy ?
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Case For Moon: Humanity's Gateway To Solar System Exploration, Open Ended, Planetary Protection At Its Heart
- Anti-Science Beliefs On GMOs May Be Due To Knowledge Gap
- Prohibition 2016: Assessing The UK's Psychoactive Substances Act
- Mindfulness Is Not A Waste Of Time
- Silencing Cholera's Social Media
- 3 Reasons EPA Sided With Environmentalists Over Science On Methane
- Low Hormone Levels Linked To Obesity In Teens
- "You might be worrying about the wrong problem. Do you know any smart, highly educated people who..."
- "What could be more unscientific than denying people the right to know which ingredients in their..."
- "The good that Trump already does that is good for science is that he widens the PC-strangled overtone..."
- "Kites ad planes Balloons aren't the only way to stay aloft on Venus. Given the constant high wins..."
- "Correction, I say that 20 kg of algae solution was needed per person to provide all the oxygen..."
- Our Audience Is Up 700% – And Anti-Science Groups Are Going Nuts
- Tiny Vampires of the Ancient Seas
- Incentivizing Antibiotic Research
- Party Drug for Post-Surgical Pain Prevention
- Hey De Blasio-Get Off Your Sodium Podium!
- The Name Game: How Unethical Environmental Groups and Toxic Fanatics Scare You With Words
- Wind turbines on Galapagos replace millions of liters of diesel since 2007, meet 30 percent of energy needs
- Study shows patients require less painkilling medication after breast-cancer surgery if they have opiate-free anesthesia
- Quiet please in the intensive care unit!
- Premature babies may grow up to have weaker bones
- 90-90-90 HIV initiative would yield 'extraordinary returns' in South Africa