Life, the universe, and everything

The tech story of the year -- perhaps the decade -- was nearly lost in all the recent cacophony about Chrome, iPods, and iPhone updates. What am I talking about? The first test runs of the Large Hadron Collider, of course.

Well, maybe there's no "of course" about it. Even when it hit the U.S. media, the story being covered was not about trying to understand the reasons behind this massive undertaking, or explaining to non-scientists the science behind the collider, or covering the fact that this project has been in development for the last 20 years. It was about the folks worrying that the technology was going to precipitate the end of the world.

The Large Hadron Collider includes a facility the size of a small town centered around a 17-mile vacuum-sealed tunnel. It also includes a computational and data storage infrastructure made up of tens of thousands of computers around the world. It was built to help us (or, at least, those of us who understand particle physics) understand conditions in the universe just moments after its conception. In other words -- how things work.

What things? Well -- as I understand it (and with apologies to Douglas Adams): life, the universe, and everything.

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MIT physicist gets death threats over collider experiment

Unfortunately, because too often we are subject to info bites rather than full meals, many people out there became concerned that the scientists were not just studying the Big Bang theory, but possibly precipitating another one. Now, I'm not going to fault folks for being a bit nervous about whether a technology which they don't understand and don't have any control over may have undesirable consequences. Heck, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Enrico Fermi, one of the scientists at the July 16, 1945 Trinity test, offered to take bets as to whether the first nuclear explosion would ignite the atmosphere and take out New Mexico (or the entire world).

But I am concerned when scientists involved in the project are getting death threats because of that concern.

So I urge those who are really concerned about this -- or who, like me, are fascinated by the possibilities this represents -- to do the same amount of research they would do if, say, they were going to choose a new car, a new computer, or a new President. Sometimes, when you're dealing with politics, technology, or pure science, only research will get you the answers.

A couple of good places to start are the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), a site called The Large Hadron Collider sponsored by the U.K.'s Science & Technology Facilities Council, and an article on the International Science Grid This Week (iSGTW) site. Take a few minutes and do some reading -- it could be worth it.

If, however, you simply don't have the time to spare, there's a site with a quick-and-easy answer for you: hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com.

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