Yet another lengthy article about high-energy physics in the paper this week. I suppose the proximity of Fermilab to Chicago does mean that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) nearing completion in France/Switzerland has greater significance for this area than many scientific endeavours; for once the LHC bursts into life, Fermilab will have lost its status as the leader in particle physics. A brief survey of the Fermilab website reveals the extent of its contributions to uncovering various quarks, charm, bosons, neutrinos and so on. The world of particles has moved on a bit since my education when we were pretty happy with protons, neutrons and electrons.
Even now the physics community is migrating to Europe where the seven times greater energy of the LHC will afford greater probability of identifying the illusive "Higgs Boson." What's that you may ask? According to Wikipedia; my first resort when seeking information, and it is by no means half as bad as purists want to make out; the Higgs is the only particle of the Standard Model of physics yet to be observed. It is the icing on the cake to borrow a hackneyed phrase. There is almost a sense that it is simply a matter of time and with the right equipment, so solid does the theory seem to be; after all, everything else has fallen into place. But the work still has to be done, and the thing still needs to be found in order to be certain; and I suppose in that there is the anticipation and tendency to wonder "what if it isn't?"
What indeed would be the upshot if the Higgs doesn't make its expected appearance? Uproar in the physics world, new theories no doubt; but for us, the simple folk, will there be any difference? Does the presence or absence of Higgs make any difference to our lives? The most probable answer, no, is probably why the Superconducting Super Collider, once sought after at Fermi but later moved to Texas, was eventually axed. So little gain for the pain.
Astonishing is the human effort dedicated in this: the article stated that 7,000 scientists will be working at the LHC. It is unclear as to whether this army is dedicated to the single cause or many causes, but it is an amazing figure, and one that is in stark contrast to the early tradition of science as being the work of individuals. Consider that almost all the great scientists of history were individuals; the theories and laws have almost always a single name attached. The personality traits of scientists often include introspection and isolation. Some of them were downright quirky, even shunning public exposure. It is fascinating to consider how this army can be organized coherently in the search for the Higgs; what egos must be soothed, personal ambitions managed and agendas manipulated to make it all happen.