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The Past and the Future of the Universe

April 15, 2013 FUTURE|Nation No Comments
The Past and the Future of the Universe

How did the universe begin? And, once knowing, will we ever be the same?

Interview with Dr. Paul Padley by Arthur G. Insana

How did the universe begin? And, once knowing, will we ever be the same?
Imagine a time when the mysterious and fundamental secrets of the universe finally have been answered and are as accepted as knowing that the Earth is round. Imagine a world in which other dimensions are opened up to exploration, or that limitless energy sources finally solve the global crises we face.
Now imagine that that time has come, and that the world of imagination… is reality.
Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, are on the verge of potentially not only discovering those unsolved universal mysteries, but also of opening the door to a mind-boggling array of new technologies that may promise to eclipse the notions brought to us by the science of fiction.


Imagine a time when the mysterious and fundamental secrets of the universe finally have been answered and are as accepted as knowing that the Earth is round. Imagine a world in which other dimensions are opened up to exploration, or that limitless energy sources finally solve the global crises we face.

Now imagine that that time has come, and that the world of imagination… is reality.

Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, are on the verge of potentially not only discovering those unsolved universal mysteries, but also of opening the door to a mind-boggling array of new technologies that may promise to eclipse the notions brought to us by the science of fiction.

As we beta-launch the-future.com, we are proud to open our doors to some of the world’s most ground-breaking theorists… pioneers on the razor’s edge of tomorrow.

We welcome Dr. Paul Padley, professor of physics at Rice University, and a lead physicist of experimental research for the LHC. Dr. Padley has agreed to become a regular editorial contributor to our feature: Portals – an open channel of communication with leading global thinkers from a variety of disciplines integral to our evolution as a species. Dr Padley also is joining our Board of Directors, as a science mentor and advisor.

For this first overview of the operations at CERN, we spoke with Dr. Padley to foster a better understanding of the LHC’s purpose and goals. Subsequent interviews and articles will delve more deeply into the Collider’s ongoing experiments, with supplemental articles from Dr. Padley, himself. (See his first accompanying article: Revolutions in Science.)

t-f/c: Can you explain what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is?

Dr. P: The LHC is a particle accelerator which takes protons and accelerates them to 7 TeV protons crashing into 7 TeV protons (7 TeV energy is the energy a proton would have after being accelerated to 7,000,000,000,000 Volts), which is seven times more energetic than has ever been achieved before. [According to CERN’s run plan for the next year, the accelerator will initially start at  3.5TeV on 3.5TeV and then will be raised  to 5 on 5.] It (the Collider) will take two beams of protons, which are going in opposite directions, around the ring. They will hit, head-on and, in those collisions, new matter, new processes, should reveal themselves.

This computer-generated image shows the location of the 27-km LHC tunnel (in blue) on the Swiss-France border. The four main experiments (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, and LHCb) are located in underground caverns connected to the surface by 50 m to 150 m pits. Part of the pre-acceleration chain is shown in grey.

This computer-generated image shows the location of the 27-km LHC tunnel (in blue) on the Swiss-France border. The four main experiments (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, and LHCb) are located in underground caverns connected to the surface by 50 m to 150 m pits. Part of the pre-acceleration chain is shown in grey.

So what’s going on is… we’re harnessing Einstein’s equation E=MC²,  to take the energy we’re putting into those protons and convert it into mass energy and make new unobserved particles – particles that haven’t been seen before in nature… or see processes taking place, that we haven’t seen before in nature.

The processes and the particles that we see in this, are things that must have happened in the beginning of the universe, or shortly after the Big Bang… and these processes we’re examining are what give rise to the structure of the universe. We’re actually, really trying to do cosmology on a microscopic scale…we’re trying to understand the underlying physics that goes on at a sub-atomic level. There’s a deep connection with what we see in the universe, and what we see on the microscopic scale…that we’ll be examining.

t-f/c: How do you make that assumption?

Dr. P: We know some of the properties of the universe… we know some of the things we see… and we can’t explain what we see in the universe without invoking something that we call the Standard Model of Particle Physics. You can’t explain where the elements come from, you can’t explain where the quarks that make up the protons and neutrons come from, and how they interact, without using the Standard Model of Particle Physics. So, what we’re doing, at these high energies, is replicating a point in time, shortly after the Big Bang, where the energy density of the universe is comparable to the energy densities we’ll have in these collisions.

t-f/c: Still, the experiments begin with a basic assumption?

Dr. P: There’s an assumption being made that the laws of physics today, are the same laws of physics that existed at the beginning of the universe. It’s not totally outside the realm of debate, so people can call that into question.

t-f/c: So, your experiments are an attempt to recreate The Big Bang… or, maybe, The Little Big Bang?

Dr. P: I do experimental particle physics…we’re trying to understand the most fundamental constituents of matter, and how they interact. We’re trying to understand the most basic elements of the universe. Now, we know that when we look out at the universe, it’s comprised, largely, of dark energy and dark matter. So, about 95% of what’s out there in the universe has not been identified by science. And this is a big mystery. There is a sub-set, a small minority, of scientists, who explain dark energy by saying…”well, the laws of physics could be a bit different…and what you’re seeing could be an effect of that.” But the thing that you see with the Hubble telescope is an accelerating expansion of the universe…and that’s a complete mystery. So, for me, this is an opportunity. We don’t know what 95% of the universe is made out of – let’s try and make some of that stuff in the lab.

* * *

In upcoming coverage of the LHC, we’ll examine the importance of the research, the global cooperation required to mount this enormous effort of science and the potential applications of the discoveries made.

For example, it sometimes takes decades for technological applications to arise from pure scientific theory and research: Did you know that your Global Positioning System (GPS) requires the application of both Einstein’s special theory of relativity and his general theory of relativity to correctly calculate your position? Without correcting for the effects predicted by those theories, the GPS would never get you to your destination… at least, not the one you intended!

Or, that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web – coincidently, a monumental technological advancement that not only makes this communication possible, but originally was developed by the deep thinkers at CERN, for their own internal use. http://info.cern.ch/www20/

As we embark upon our species’ journey toward tomorrow, it should not be lost on us, that to understand the future, pioneers like Dr, Padley and his colleagues must look back to the very beginning of time. AGI

Revolutions in Science

By Dr. Paul Padley, Professor of Physics, Rice University

In a recent blog on the Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2009/jun/22/end-science-unified-theory-mavericks

Ehsan Masood posed the question “Are we witnessing the end of science?” This is an excellent discussion and it is correctly pointed out that the LHC at CERN may lead to the revolution. There was an interesting comment made that is worthy of a bit more conversation: Masood writes, “Revolutions in scientific thinking are always difficult – but perhaps one reason why we may see fewer of them in the future is because of the highly professional way in which modern science is organized. It takes a lot of courage to challenge conventionally accepted views, and it needs a certain amount of stamina to constantly battle those who want to protect the status quo. Mavericks do not do well in large organizations, which is what some scientific fields have become.”

As someone who is working on one of the LHC experiments, I would like to give an insider’s view that is quite contrary. The major experiments at the LHC have been preparing to analyze the data that will be forthcoming when the LHC is turned back on. Of course no one knows, in advance, what will be found (you wouldn’t need to do the experiment if you already had the answer) and so the collaborations survey the theoretical ideas that are in existence and, using simulations, see how well they can test these ideas. They have produced large documents called Physics TDRs that survey all the ideas that have been put through this process. This is like a dress rehearsal for when the data will be available.

What is striking, incredibly striking, about these documents is that a large fraction of the effort is exploring the potential for discovering evidence of new and revolutionary science. The CMS experiment (full disclosure, I am a collaborator on that experiment), has assets of Web pages for the public about the physics that will be pursued by the experiment…

http://cms.web.cern.ch/cms/Physics/index.html and you can see that physics, beyond what is known, is the major goal for the experiment. The fact that we might not have a clue as to what that will be is fully acknowledged…

http://cms.web.cern.ch/cms/Physics/Rewriting/index.html. Quoting that Web page:

“The Higgs mechanism and speculative theories like supersymmetry are exciting physics and will be scrutinized and tested at CMS. But if they are not correct and we, instead, see new, interesting and different phenomena, this could launch a revolution in physics, sending theorists back to the drawing board and challenging our ideas about the world at the most basic level.”

For me, and most of my colleagues, this is the foremost goal of the experiment. In fact, this is even a bit self serving, because the greatest rewards in academia go to those who have challenged the status quo and had their ideas prevail. (Einstein was unable to get a job in academia until he had done so — he had to work in the Swiss patent office until then.)   Like all good science, the ideas and results that come from the experiments  will be scrutinized and challenged. However, the correct ideas will prevail. Most of us expect that there will be a revolutionary change in our view of the universe.

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=495

Arthur G. Insana is Co-founder/Publisher & Editor-In-Chief of the-future.com.

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