The torrential rains at the summer resort in the Catskills, where my dad was a weekend bass player, entitling us to the use of a free if leaky bungalow, drove all us campers into the cavernous dance hall for an impromptu game of trivia. I was 5 years old, and the first up. “Where are you from?” the head counselor asked when I had climbed onto the stage.
I was so intently focused on my private, newfound passion that I hardly registered the question. “Math!” I answered, only to be baffled when everyone around me erupted in laughter.
Mathematics is a universal language of pattern.… Seguir leyendo »
When rumors started crisscrossing the Internet last week that the elusive Higgs particle had been detected by researchers at the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, I experienced my first physics-generated chill in a decade. It happened again Tuesday morning with the official announcement suggesting that the more than 40-year search for the Higgs may finally be nearing its end.
The researchers have cautioned that the data have not yet reached the threshold for claiming a definitive discovery. But the stakes are so high that even the tentative announcement has rightly fueled much excitement. Finding the Higgs particle would complete an essential chapter in our quest to understand the basic constituents of the universe.… Seguir leyendo »
In a great many fields, researchers would give their eyeteeth to have a direct glimpse of the past. Instead, they generally have to piece together remote conditions using remnants like weathered fossils, decaying parchments or mummified remains. Cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, is different. It is the one arena in which we can actually witness history.
The pinpoints of starlight we see with the naked eye are photons that have been streaming toward us for a few years or a few thousand. The light from more distant objects, captured by powerful telescopes, has been traveling toward us far longer than that, sometimes for billions of years.… Seguir leyendo »
Three hundred feet below the outskirts of Geneva lies part of a 17-mile-long tubular track, circling its way across the French border and back again, whose interior is so pristine and whose nearly 10,000 surrounding magnets so frigid, that it’s one of the emptiest and coldest regions of space in the solar system.
The track is part of the Large Hadron Collider, a technological marvel built by physicists and engineers, and described alternatively as heralding the next revolution in our understanding of the universe or, less felicitously, as a doomsday machine that may destroy the planet.
After more than a decade of development and construction, involving thousands of scientists from dozens of countries at a cost of some $8 billion, the “on” switch for the collider was thrown this week.… Seguir leyendo »
A couple of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we’ve all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I’d written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists’ search for nature’s deepest laws — the soldier’s letter might strike you as, well, odd.
But it’s not. Rather, it speaks to the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning.… Seguir leyendo »