We’ve Got the Fever: Particle Fever screening one night only at HMNS! (10/9/14)

Next week we’re bringing you the chance to glimpse back in time to the very beginning of the universe with the critically acclaimed documentary Particle Fever screening Thursday, October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

“Wait a second,” you might say, “how can this documentary show us the beginning of the universe? I’m pretty sure cameras came along much later.”

Well what if I told you that scientists have built a machine capable of re-creating the conditions of that very, very, very, very hot, small, energetic place that would eventually come to be the universe as we know it.

Along the way these scientists also invented a handy little thing called the internet (sorry, Al Gore). You might’ve heard of it… No? Google it.

These are the scientists at CERN in Switzerland and over the past several decades they’ve designed and built the Large Hardron Collider, which is the biggest machine ever made. 

“The large whaaaaaa?”

It’s basically a 5 story tall, 27 kilometer long tunnel, lined with computers, 100 meters underground capable of making particles collide with one another at extremely fast speeds so they break up into their fundamental pieces. This can give us a better idea of why the universe looks and behaves the way it does. 

In this exciting, fast-paced documentary we get a front-row seat to the frontier of scientific discovery. We watch as scientists’ entire careers hang in the balance, waiting to see what will come out of these experiments. Told through interviews and stunning animation, in a very “approachable-and-interesting-even-if-you-failed-high-school-physics” way, this film will inspire you, much like the scientists it features, to seek out every answer you can about the “everything there is” — the universe.

Don’t miss out!

Particle Fever, showing October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

 

Watch the video below for a fantastic intro to the experiments at CERN:

 

This video delves a little further into just why these scientists are so bent on discovering new particles:

Film Screening
Particle Fever Film Screening
Thursday, October 9, 6 p.m.

Join Hadron Collider researcher Dr. Paul Padley of Rice University for this one-night-only screening of the film Particle Fever at HMNS. Click here for tickets.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (9.11.08) Hurricane Ike Edition

Released to Public: Super Typhoon Cimaron Image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA)
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

And neither will any of us in the Houston-Galveston area this weekend, as Hurricane Ike barrels in from the Gulf.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider whether you need to get out of Dodge – but please – let the people in mandatory evacuation zones get out first.

This is a high-tech hurricane – Ike’s got a Twitter feed. You can also get the latest from @chronsciguy and @HoustonChron.

And, since there are other things happening in the world of science…

The world survived the initial tests – so now the question is, will CERN discover The God Particle?

Astronomers observed a gamma ray burst that was briefly so bright that it outshone the galaxy that contained it.

Maybe you really shouldn’t walk under that ladder – superstitions may have originally evolved as a survival instinct.  

It’s the like Terra Cotta Warriors – but with trees. Scientists have found fossil forests in mines that span thousands of hectares.

UPDATE: The world is still here

Atlas
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ethan Hein

Science definitely wasn’t sleeping last night -in the very wee hours of the night, (2:30 a.m. Central time to be exact) physicists at the world’s largest particle physics laboratory – CERNthrew the switch on perhaps the most massive physics experiment ever attempted. (The AP confirms: we’re still here.) The eventual goal: find the Higgs-Boson particle, also called the “God Particle.”

In simple terms (and they would have to be, for me to understand them) physicists theorize that the Higgs-Boson particle is the particle that gives all other particles mass. Without mass – well, there wouldn’t be anything. So, physicists would like to have a look at it – and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, an $8 billion, 14-mile particle accelerator – was designed to help them. Basically, they’re going to crash a bunch of tiny particles together and see what comes out, in an effort to create the conditions that existed just after the Big Bang.

(This is all happening in Switzerland, where CERN is located – but as the Houston Chronicle reminds us today, this cutting-edge science could have been coming from Waxahatchie. The US spent $2 billion building the Superconducting Super Collider project – it’s super! – there, which would have created a particle accelerator three times as large as the LHC – before Congress pulled the funding in 1993.)

What brought so much attention to CERN over the last few months – so much so that CERN physicists went through improv comedy training to improve their skills at relating to people – were allegations that flipping the switch would literally mean the end of the world – in the form of a giant black hole that would swallow the Earth. Specifically:

The Hole
A tiny black hole will not
swallow the Earth.
Creative Commons License photo credit: jepoirrier

“…the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a ‘strangelet’ that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called ‘strange matter.'” (You can read an explanation of why that won’t actually happen here.)

So grave were fears, that Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian federal court (despite obvious issues of jurisdiction). (The above quote is from the New York Times’ coverage of their suit.) This kicked off a daily chronicle of the suit, as well as the Large Hadron Collider CERN was in the process of building and testing – and breathless speculation on whether this time, those crazy scientists really are going to kick the bucket for all known life.

Because of all this, an extremely technical branch of physics became – amazingly – a cultural phenomenon. A rap video filmed inside the Large Hadron Collider, explaining what would be tested and how, has almost 2 milion views on YouTube (the fact that it’s hysterical – but also an extremely easy-to-understand explanation – certainly helps.) Keep in mind – this is a video about physics. (Google has also marked the occasion with an LHC graphic on it’s search page today.)

The controversy could perhaps be reduced to the simple fact that people fear the unknown. We are profoundly afraid of what we can’t explain – and don’t even get started on what we can’t predict. At the very edges of science (and sometimes, smack in the middle of everyday investigations), you’re never quite sure what is going to happen. Scientists are fully aware of those risks. As the New York Times reported:

“…the case touches on a serious issue that has bothered scholars and scientists in recent years — namely how to estimate the risk of new groundbreaking experiments and who gets to decide whether or not to go ahead.”

Which is why the LHC Safety Assessment Group – a group of independent scientists – went back over their calculations, concluding that the experiments CERN was proposing pose “no conceivable threat.” CERN also opened the whole process to the science community and the public for examination – and continue to reassure people that:

“…if particle collisions at the LHC had the power to destroy the Earth, we would never have been given the chance to worry about the LHC, because regular interactions with more energetic cosmic rays would already have destroyed the Earth.”

This driving curiosity about the world we live in is what has taken us from cave dwellers to space walkers in less than 500,000 years – and how we’ve gone from paper maps to Google Earth in less than 15. This fear of the unknown is universal – but it is not a reason to stop trying, to stop reaching into the unknown and pulling out magic, taking it apart, figuring it out and then putting it back together again. I hope that the world will continue watching what’s happening at CERN (and in science labs all over the world) with anticipation – not of the Apocalypse, but of the wonders we we still have left to discover.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (9.9.08)

Released to Public: Sinai Penninsula and Dead Sea from Space Shuttle Columbia, March 2002 (NASA)
Coming soon: giant black hole?
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Worried that CERN is about to create a giant black hole? (As in, tomorrow?) Steven Hawking has bet $100 that the 14-year, $8 billion project won’t even find what it’s looking for.

NASA’s Mars Rover has been Twittering madly since it landed on the Red Planet last May – and almost 34,000 people are following every mission detail. But what happens when the little guy finally shuts down?

Can we bring extinct species back? Sometimes, they’re not even actually gone.

“Nano” doesn’t necessarily mean “tiny,” at least in terms of risk – nanosilver is fast becoming widespread in new products – despite its EPA classification as an environmental hazard.

Ten things you didn’t know about the Earth. Like – what would it take to wipe it out?

How did Neanderthals give birth? Turns out, a lot like we do.