Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Big Dig for Higgs

Today’s quiz: What do you call a ring that is 17 miles long yet 300 feet below the ground, uses the world’s largest supply of liquid helium, and cost $10 billion?

Why that would be the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator of course! Known as LHC, the Geneva-based Large Hadron Collider will have seven times the power of its closest rival, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago.

As a result, scientists are gradually leaving the US for physics’ new center of gravity in Switzerland.

The LHC’s main goal is to find physical evidence of the Higgs boson, the only Standard Model elementary particle yet to be observed. Not quite a unified field theory like the one Einstein searched for most of his life, the Standard Model incorporates quantum mechanics and special relativity but not gravity.

At 22%, Switzerland already has one of the highest percentages of foreigners in the world. And with the influx of Fermi scientists it will get ever so slightly higher.

It seems that in the American immigration debate someone lost sight of how to keep immigrants – like world class scientists – we currently have but are about to lose: the Fermi lab will close in 2009.

Maybe all America needs to keep more smart people from leaving is a new Standard Model for its political system. And of course a political accelerator.

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