Have you noticed yourself trending to the negative these days when it comes to the human race and the plight of the world? I certainly have. I mean, the news—whether it’s money and gridlock in politics, boots on the ground and drones in the sky, or our rapidly heating planet—is sobering. It’s not just us cynical old adults who are feeling edgy, either. Many of our kids are, too. And they have to cope with the high cost of college and the low prospects for a decent job to boot.
I don’t speak Yiddish, but I believe the word Oy applies here.
So, when my daughter, who just graduated from college, suggested I watch a documentary because it was “uplifting,” I took her up on it. The film, titled Particle Fever (you can get it on Netflix), chronicles the work at CERN, the international laboratory located in Switzerland, which culminated in the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012.
She was right. After watching Particle Fever, I went to bed feeling proud to be a human and optimistic about the future.
How in the world, you might ask, could a film about something as obscure and arcane as a elementary particle do this to anyone except a theoretical physicist? Let me explain.
First of all, the discovery of this long sought after particle resulted from an international collaboration of the first order. The best physicists and engineers from all over the word worked together toward the common goal. Jews worked next to Iranians who worked next to Indians who worked next to Pakistanis, and on and on. It was science and the quest for rational knowledge that united these people, and allowed them to set aside their political, religious, ethnic, and tribal differences.
What if we tackled global warming with this kind of fervor?
Second, I was awed by the scale and complexity of the effort. The machine that did the heavy lifting—called the Large Hadron Collider—should be called the eighth wonder of the world. It’s a 27 km (16 mile) underground ring of massive superconducting electro-magnets which pulse in a complex sequence that accelerates two beams of protons moving in opposite directions to nearly the speed of light. Whoa! Don’t try this at home. Indeed, the energy of the beams is so intense that some scientists warned that the collisions might form a black hole and swallow up the earth! I’m happy to report this did not occur.
Have a huge problem that needs fixing anywhere on the planet? Put a team of scientists and engineers together with a clear goal and get out of the way.
Finally, there’s the stunning intellectual achievement. The existence of the elusive particle, named for Peter Higgs, who along with others predicted its existence forty years ago, completes the “Standard Model.” The model basically explains the form and function of the myriad fundamental particles that compose us and everything else. Think of it. Our species has explained the motions of the heavens, mapped a great deal of the universe, and developed and now experimentally verified a model predicting how the most fundamental building blocks in the universe behave.
Not bad for a band of scrappy homo-sapiens on a tiny rock with a molten core in a far-flung spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Look what we’ve done! Just look!
Warren C. Easley is the author of the Cal Claxton mystery series set in Oregon. Dead Float, the second book in the series, appeared last July.