Sunday, 23 October 2011


I've somewhat recovered from writing my dissertation and am so am putting it online.  Mostly because I'm too plague-ridden to do anything as energetic as finishing my sci-com thing-making workshop proposal

This was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London, handed in on the 3rd of October, 2011.  It's concerned with Radiolab, a 'curious things' podcast which I won't describe here, because it's in the dissertation!  I'm also not going to read it again to paraphrase, because I'll spot things and kick myself.

As innovative science writing for lay people blooms across the web, I wonder: where are the innovators and explorers of our airwaves?
As amply demonstrated by Orson Wells’ retelling of War of the Worlds in 1983, radio can be a powerfully convincing medium, hijacking the auditory nerve to feed the imagination, creating stories in the ‘theatre of the mind’. However, whereas Wells subverted conventional codes, I will look at an slice of radio which creates a new form of storytelling.
RadioLab takes it upon itself to explore topics gut-wrenching, heart-swelling, knee-slapping and mind-bending, marching guilelessly from its position of ignorance to ask science ‘Why’?
In this document, I intend to examine the programme’s origins, its distribution methods, its experimental construction and form, and its effect on an audience.
It is my aim to establish what makes Radiolab a unique piece of aural science communication, and whether it works at engaging and informing an audience.
Read more here [pdf file, 802K, 48 pages]

I think I managed to pull out some interesting things, feel free to let me know what you think.  Now to sort out the prize draw for all the lovely people who made it possible by filling in my survey.

I'd also like to thank my Mum and a certain df who helped me pull (and hold) it all together.  Couldn't have done it without you.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Essay - Views on a storm – a proposed installation

Essay written for Academic Core 1 - Assignment 2.
The brief: describe an artwork and how it relates to the world of science.  I decided to take a slightly skewed approach, and propose an artwork of my own.

Views on a storm – a proposed installation

A storm approaches. Immense billows block the light, sheets of rain lash the landscape. Flashes of light illuminate the clouds from within. A chill wind drives it forward.
Take the imposing sight of a dark, towering cloud, brimming with lightning and dispensing rain and hail. Ancient peoples interpreted them as manifestations of the anger of the gods. With experience, a farmer might see a threat to their crop, a sailor an indicator of rough seas to be navigated around. With training, a meteorologist might see it as the outcome of turbulent weather systems, a physicist, a battle between updraught and gravity which may produce hailstorms.

Each of these viewpoints can be seen as an overlay of meaning onto observation, allowing them to read the state of underlying systems in surface features. These interpretations are entirely dependent on the mental landscape of the viewer, and how their experience, knowledge and values filter what they see.

I would like to propose an installation artwork, celebrating the diversity of human perception. It would exploit an unusual optical phenomenon to reveal the invisible, and allow the audience unexpected glimpses into the minds of others. It would offer an immediate and intuitive way to explore a subject through different eyes. Most particularly, I would like to communicate the beauty and joy I find in a scientific view of the world.
An example of cumulonimbus praecipitatio, created by the rapid upward movement of warm, moist air and characterised by precipitation that reaches the ground.
Studying physics for three years had a profound effect on my outlook. I was trained to look at the world in a certain way, to observe, measure, test, record and report what I saw objectively. My watchwords were rigour, logic, and rationality. I was swept up by the universality of the scientific method, presented as creating a communal edifice of fact and theory divorced from the daily experience and internal worlds of the people that create it.

This ideal of objectivity is carried to its extreme in formal scientific communication. The process of structuring observation into information, building toward theory and ultimately formal knowledge iteratively removes the stamp of the individual observer until the final product is universal, impersonal, unambiguous.

In formal scientific communication between peers, subjectivity is not discarded but rather is recorded and accounted for. Although a certain level of understanding is assumed, authors externalise their mental framework both by dispassionately explaining their reasoning and through reference to work which they draw on. In this way, the reader is given as full access as possible to the author's thought processes. In theory, every statement can be traced to its conceptual roots, ultimately supported by testable facts. The reader is an active participant in the process of communication, navigating through the author's arguments to verify the foundations of their conclusions.

This depth of understanding is essential to conveying the minutiae of scientific endeavour and to effective critique, but it is inaccessible to an audience which lacks knowledge of the paradigm in which the author operates. It is the essence of dispassionate, intellectual communication.
Animated arrows represent air movement within the storm cloud, colours changing as heat is exchanged with the condensation of water vapour. Spheres with + and - signs dance through the structure.
The wider context of a piece of scientific work is frequently presented through documentary texts, which I define as journalistic reportage which curate the communication of others into a gestalt vision of the subject. This may be a cohesive picture of consensus or a fragmentary view of discord. Though it may convey more of the values, excitement or motivations of scientific work, documentary expression still operates at a remove, rather than conveying directly the internal landscape of an individual observer.
Sparsely framed, colourful radar imagery of a storm is collaged with a tracery of diagrams and strongly textured oil-paint clouds lit by lightning within.
Occasionally a scientific institution will seek to communicate on a more empathic level by channeling their output through artists. They may be invited to spend time in the institution, perhaps being placed with an active researcher, to become familiar with the institution's methods and output and produce artworks based on their experiences.

To explain my reservations toward this practice, I will need to enunciate my definition of art. Works of art come in many guises: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, dance, theatre, poetry, prose. Art can be classified as what is beautiful, appealing, or has more than ordinary significance. However, these are of course very subjective qualities. I would like to propose a definition of art, distinct from the craft of creating something beautiful.
The hard edges of an ephemeral storm cloud are frozen in granite, towering and foreboding. This contradiction of solidity and weight hovers, apparently absurdly weightless, over metal rods of rain.
Artistic works can be literal, metaphorical or abstract, fleeting or permanent, and anything in between. They may depict the beauty of a face or a feeling of loss, through an enduring edifice in marble or an ephemeral arrangement of leaves on a river stone, to a universal or specific audience. However, throughout its myriad forms, I consider art to be the process of expressing a subjective reality by imbuing a creative text with meaning, with the aim of inducing a response in the mind of the viewer.

This process spans four elements: subject, artist, text, and viewer's reception. The artist's observations of the subject are built into a mental abstraction, and translated through their particular medium into a text. An individual's view of the artwork may be a faithful recreation of the artist's idea or diverge wildly for it, according to the viewer's mental landscape of values, experience and emotions. Artists may attempt to exploit, challenge or transcend this subjectivity, but if the viewer perceives no significance within the text, then (for them) it has not succeeded as a work of art.

An artwork will evoke constellations of meaning in the mind of the viewer - the extent to which these are intended determining how effective the piece is. Playing on these chains of association and meaning can be effective, but relying on them will narrow the audience for whom an artwork will have impact. By its subjective nature, artistic communication can also give rise to imprecision and ambiguity, rendering it relatively ineffective as a means of expressing factual information. Art also differs from other avenues of communication in the extent to which the artist's subjectivity is expressed.

The artist's observations of the subject are filtered through their experience, knowledge and values.  Key features, perhaps distorted or exaggerated, are built into a coherent abstraction of the subject.  By translating this model into their chosen medium, the artist attempts to convey to the viewer what they find significant in the subject. Is the quality and uniqueness of this vision which lends an artistic text its power.

An artist's skill in the execution of their craft can be enhanced by practice, and their skill in abstraction can be similarly honed through study. For example, even a cursory examination of anatomy will enable a sculptor to see the human body with new eyes, to see the patterns of surface form with respect to underlying structures and systems. This pairing of understanding to observation adds a wealth of depth and texture to their perception a subject, which can be channelled into and inform their model.

Returning to institutional art, I am wary of pieces which do not come directly from comprehension in the mind of the artist, but are filtering by their understanding of a scientist's explanation. Without investing in the framework to see the patterns and significance in a technical subject, an artist's clarity of vision must be compromised. Of course, the applicability of these statements is entirely dependent on the circumstances, artist and what they choose to convey.

As I look further into the mechanics of discourse and communication, I am increasingly finding that understanding the subjective experience of other parties is key to successful communication. By investigation, comparison and questioning, ideas can be modelled, compared and built upon. In the spirit of this, I am engaged in the project of investigating my internal landscape, comparing the insides of my own head against an ever-expanding identification chart of concepts.
The cloud's roiling form condenses within warm air hoisted aloft by an intruding wedge of cold air. Rain sheets down, wrung from the cloud as it is squeezed tighter against an oppressive band of cold air above.
Through my study of physics, my natural curiosity developed into a drive to answer every 'how' or 'why' question, to never leave something at 'I don't know'. This manifests in me seeking out information about phenomena which I encounter, or interesting, 'wow' ideas in general. The flitting of my butterfly mind is compounded by 'internet generation' sensibilities, so precise details may wash in and out without transferring to long-term storage, but the flow of information leaves traces and tracks. The impression of underlying systems ghosts around subjects which I have looked into, adding depth and richness to my perception of the world. I find it the source of great joy, and the desire to induce the same feeling in others is what steered me towards science communication.

However, while both conveying information with refinement and flair and inducing ahah! moments are immensely satisfying, it is the subjective experience of a wondering, open mind revelling in understanding which I wish to express artistically. I want to celebrate not just seeing but 'seeing as', and the model I have of our world's immense and overwhelming but ultimately fathomable complexity.

Although this complexity may suggest the layered meanings and frenetic holistic portrayals of cubism, my ideals chime more closely with the Japanese aesthetic concept of Iki. This values expression of original ideas with simplicity, sophistication, and spontaneity. Works in this mode can also be described as romantic, straightforward, measured, audacious, smart, and unselfconscious. I aim to continue this mode of expression from my craft into artistic communication.
The immense image of a storm cloud presides over a forest of transparent panels.  Passing amongst them, filigrees of word and line transform the dark cloud with brilliant colour.
I propose an installation which will allow an audience to view the same subject through different eyes. Fortunately, I know of an optical property which may be exploited to express this complexity in elegant style.

Combined polarising filters will allow or prevent the passage of light, depending on their relative orientation. By interspersing a birefringent material (such as sellotape) between them, regions of contrasting colour or clarity can be created in an otherwise black or transparent field. First experienced in an optics lecture many years ago, this image of material manipulating light has haunted me ever since.

A significant amount of research and experimentation will be required to do this well, but the concept is relatively simple:

A subject is presented through a straightforward depiction (eg. photograph) which any lay person might recognise, illuminated through or situated behind a polarising filter. Throughout the clean, spare gallery space tall, borderless transparent panels rise from the floor. Texts created from regions of birefringent material will populate the panels. As the viewer explores the room, unexpected flashes of colour will appear where panels intrude between viewer and the subject.

Each panel will offer a different subjective perspective, each of these key texts having been created in collaboration with a scientific or lay individual to visually express their perception of the chosen subject. A viewer can thus position themselves so as to superimpose text and subject, and experience a compound vision.

A further development might be to make the whole installation dynamic, using liquid crystal (a controllable birefringent material) as the display filter.

The aim of the work is to reveal the omnipresent but hidden subjectivity with which individuals see the world. However, rather than demonising the products of subjectively filtered observations, the goal is to externalise, examine and account for this subjectivity as the first step to developing mutual understanding.

Admittedly, my ulterior motive is to express the beauty I find through scientific, systemic understanding, but the work would also be a celebration of expertise outside of the ream of formal science. I am also certain that creating it would greatly increase my personal stock of interdisciplinary and cultural understanding.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Uni essay: Bacon

Yaaaay, I wroted an essay for the 'History of the Philosophy of Science' module at uni.  2,000 words, on a given topic.  The lecturer seemed to like it!

Why is Sir Francis Bacon a candidate for the title “Founder of Modern Science"?
Sir Francis Bacon, lawyer, essayist, politician and philosopher, produced a number of philosophical works promoting science and laying out a logical system for its pursuit. His rhetorical voice and reforming zeal helped precipitate modern science from the technological advances of the time. He wished to reform systems of thought such that readers might see beyond the received wisdom of scripture and Aristotelian teachings and so bring practical benefits to humanity.
Born in 1561 to Sir Nicholas Bacon (Keeper of the Seal) and Lady Anne Coke Bacon (the learned daughter of a leading humanist), Francis Bacon was educated after the fashion of the time, in the scholastic tradition. Through Latin he was taught logic, natural philosophy, medicine, law and theology. The uniting theme in all these areas was the systems and traditions of Aristotelian thought.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote on an incredibly broad range of topics, from logic to poetry, rhetoric to zoology, music to ethics. Of particular interest to this discussion are his methods of constructing systems of knowledge.
Fundamental to Aristotelian thought is the idea that our minds are blank slates, and that impressions derived from the evidence of our senses are a true representation of the world. From observations general rules are drawn, then by deduction working back from these general rules, axioms are created. The test of their truth is whether they can be supported in debate, and whether they satisfy someone's imaginative preconceptions, rather than if they are able, as Bacon put it, to "direct him and give him light to new experiences and inventions" [Bacon,1887:232]. Crowley [1668] describes how these "...pleasant Labyrinths of ever-fresh Discourse" created a system of beautiful idealisations, perfect circles and straight lines, "Pageants of the Brain".
The methods of deduction propounded by Aristotle did not include an external method of refutation, but are defended by "refutation of refutations" [Russell, 1946:195]. Instances which do not fit the axioms drawn from the general rules are classed as aberrations or 'monsters'. Aristotle's position near the end of the golden period of early Greek philosophy left him a largely unchallenged position, and Russell [1946:157] asserts that "after his death, it was two thousand years before the world produced any philosopher who could be regarded as approximately his equal".
At the time of Bacon, Aristotelian thought still dominated the structure of scientific and philosophical endeavour, with the ancient Greek's authority almost as unquestioned as that of the church, which itself exercised considerable control over the circulation of ideas. Bacon saw this uncritical acceptance as a huge obstacle to progress, and much of his writing directly criticises Aristotle's ideas. Huge strides in technology and instrumentation were sadly unmatched in philosophy, which could be said to be stultifyingly dogmatic. Publications were subject to inquisition and authors faced censure if considered heretical.
In spite of this oppressive atmosphere, developments such as the compound microscope and telescope enabled unprecedented examination of the natural world, and provided an increasing accumulation of 'monsters' which weighed heavily against received doctrines and centuries of inertia.
A profound example of the assault on Aristotelian and scriptural ideas, as well as a critical turning point in our perceptions of the universe can be seen in the notion of a heliocentric universe.
A mathematician and clergyman, Copernicus (1473-1543) formulated the theory that the Earth both rotated and revolved relatively early in his life, but was not able to give any conclusive evidence. Being a profoundly pious man, he delayed publication of his theory until the year of his death for fear of censure. [Russell, 1946:485] Kepler (1571-1630) made close observation of the planets and identified their orbits as elliptical - anathema to traditional notions of heavenly bodies describing perfect circles.
Along with Kepler, Galileo (1564-1642) ardently championed Copernicus' theory. His developments in telescope manufacture allowed him to make corroborating observations, such as identifying moons in orbit about Jupiter, and the phases of Venus. However, we must recall that these observers themselves cannot be considered free of misconceptions and cognitive bias. Galileo struggled to reconcile the hypothesis of the revolution and rotation of the Earth with the absence of its of observable, mechanical effects. He attempted to wring an explanation of the tides from his incomplete picture of mechanics, invoking fascinating arguments which he himself would not have accepted had they come from an outside source. [Einstein, 1967]
He was famously condemned by the Inquisition for heresy, though Gerard [1913] presents a different slant on the story, asserting that the Catholic Church's condemnation of Galileo was not due to his profession of heliocentrism, but rather to his promotion of it in opposition to scripture. He states that that they were "convinced... that the new teaching was radically false and unscientific... Galileo himself had no sufficient proof of what he so vehemently advocated", providing an example of the Church as arbiters of knowledge at the time.
While his contemporaries attempted to throw off the restrictions of classical thought by presenting hypotheses supported by evidence, Bacon sought to change the world by proposing a new philosophy.
His prolific essay-writing dealt with the subject throughout his life, and from a young age he expressed his dissatisfaction with traditional modes of thought and laid out a grand plan of reform.
Following his education at Cambridge and Gray's Inn, Bacon travelled around Europe and returned inspired by the state of scientific investigation. However, financial circumstances drove him to practice law and seek political office. A member of parliament for 37 years, he shrewdly managed to survive a change of monarch and thrived, becoming Lord Chancellor and having the ear of the King. Eventually driven out of political life by scandal and plot, Bacon devoted the last 5 years of his life to writing. While during his lifetime he was known as a legal theorist, rationalist and systematiser, it is this work on the philosophy of science that he is now remembered for most. Although when he died he had completed only a fraction of his hugely ambitious plans, the completed volumes on his research strategy have had considerable impact.
Bacon proposed the creation of a general theory of science, that could be applied over all branches of knowledge and would allow practitioners to progress beyond what was possible using traditional methods.
Fundamental to his approach is the idea that the human mind, rather than a blank slate receiving the evidence of our senses, is an imperfect mirror that reflects an imperfect image of reality. He identifies sources of misconception, 'idols' of the mind: innate human failings, closely-held doctrines, imperfect language and received philosophical systems [Klein, 2009]. Critically, this final idol highlights that what has gone before not only can but must be challenged before useful work can be done. Bacon entitled his work on research methodology Novum Organum, setting it up in direct opposition to Aristotle's Organum, or 'system of knowing'. This conceptual shift towards identifying and battling subjectivity is central to the pursuit of modern science.
Bacon proposes that once influences on the mind have been isolated, the natural philosopher should approach observation with an open mind, in an empirical fashion: gathering knowledge on the topic of interest without any prejudicial notions of what the outcome might be. From these data axioms are constructed by induction, each one thoroughly tested by observation, which gradually build upon each other in a pyramid of knowledge culminating in general laws.
We see Bacon's rhetorical style in his comparison between traditional philosophers as spiders, spinning webs of thought from their own bodies, and empirical investigators as bees, gathering information and building it up via their methods of reasoning into nutritive knowledge.
Bacon directs that tables of instances of the phenomenon under investigation should be drawn up, that agreements, differences and variations be identified, which will direct the investigator toward axiomatic truths. This is a hugely impractical and labour-intensive operation, and in fact modern scientific methods rely more on the hypothetico-deductive method, where the power of intuition and creativity is utilised in proposing a solution, which is formalised, and then investigated with the aim of corroborate or falsifying the theory. While few if any researchers have directly used the purely inductive method (Pomphrey, 2009), the beauty of these notions is that they can be challenged, that they set up a different starting point from which better methods can be developed.
While a man of faith, Bacon developed upon St. Tomas Aquina's 13th Century ideas separating articles of faith from knowledge gleaned by reason. He proposed a collective institution for the investigation of the natural world, funded by the state and completely independent of the Church. Named "Solomon's House", or alternatively the "College of the Six Days Works", it sought "the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible". [Bacon, 1623] With a hierarchical structure divided into teams for particular spheres of investigation, it has its echoes in the modern conception of a research university. While Hegel criticises Bacon as a low-minded philosopher for civil servants and shopkeepers [Simpson, 2005], his emphasis on worldly and practical outcomes of science seems to to be a key part of what made his ideas so successful.
Bacon's familiarity with techniques of rhetoric, debate, persuasion and law are evident in his writing. While it bears testament to his flair that some of Shakespeare's works have been arguably attributed to him, his focus was not on literary merit. Pitching his writing at political decision-makers of the time, Bacon aimed to mould their agendas and guide their policies. [Simpson, 2005] He appealed directly to their patronage, painting pictures of the benefits his new philosophy could offer. His rhetorical prowess also meant that his ideas could be transmitted directly, without need for generations of scholars to digest his work and distil its merit.
Shortly after his death, we can see Bacon's ideal of Solomon's House being attempted in earnest. A circle of eminent thinkers (John Wilkins, Jonathan Goddard, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, William Petty, Robert Boyle et al.) formed the "Invisible College" out-with the existing university structure, meeting weekly to perform and discuss experiments investigating the natural world. After the reformation, the college was reformed and obtained a royal charter, becoming the Royal Society of London in 1660. Later chaired by Newton, the Society lauded Bacon as its inspiration.
Members of the Royal Society considered him a "daring originator of a new intellectual era" [Simpson, 2005], and their attitude is succinctly expressed by Adrian Cowley in his poem To the Royal Society [1668]:

"Bacon at last, a mighty Man, arose
Whom a wise King and Nature chose
Lord Chancellor of both their Lawes...
"The barren Wilderness he past,
Did on the very Border stand
Of the great promis’d Land,
And from the Mountains Top of his Exalted Wit,
Saw it himself and shew’d us it... "

Cowley paints Bacon as a visionary reformer, transmitting to contemporaries and followers the future of natural enquiry, the “promis'd Land" that only he had the capacity to see. Perhaps he might be considered more as a vocaliser and systematiser of what was happening in the world in his time, but either way his ideas were influential, despite their incompleteness. While his methods might have been imperfect (such as the exclusion of hypothesis from his inductive method), his separation of philosophy from theology and emphasis on observation with an open, unencumbered mind form the basis of the ideals of science as it is practised today.

Bacon, F., The Works, Volume III, Spedding, J. et al. (ed), (London, 1887)
Bacon, F., New Atlantis, (London, Rowley, 1623) E-book: (US, Project Gutenberg, 2001), Accessed 1 November 2010, URL:
Cowley, A, “To the Royal Society", Works, (London, 1668)
Einstein, A., “Foreword", Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems—Ptolemaic & Copernican, Galilei, G., (USA, University of California Press, 2nd ed., 1967)
Gerard, J., “Galileo Galilei", Catholic Encyclopedia, Herbermann, C.G. (ed), (USA, Robert Appleton Company, 1913)
Klein, J., “Francis Bacon", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Zalta, E.N. (ed.), URL =
Pumfrey, S., (contributor), “Sir Francis Bacon", In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 2 April 2009
Russell, B., History of Western Philosophy, (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1946)
Simpson, D., “Francis Bacon", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fieser, J. and Dowden, B., (, 2005), Accessed 5 November 2010, URL:

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

If I had eyes that could see...

I was just sent this beautiful image, used to illustrate a piece on BBC News on spiral galaxies.  I had a look on the source website, and they have the original image in all its hugeness (and convenient wallpaper sizes) available to download.

I don't think I really need to say anything more about it than please, go and look.  Our galaxy is a beautiful place.

The Milky Way (seen here from the Paranal observatory in Chile) courtesy of ESO

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A quasi-political Explanation of the Higgs Boson

This explanation of the Higgs mechanism and boson theories was written by David J Miller (then of UCL) to enlighten the UK science minister Mr Waldegrave in 1993.  This has been something that's bugged me I've not got around to finding out about, and I find the analogy very elegant...
1. The Higgs Mechanism
Imagine a cocktail party of political party workers who are uniformly distributed across the floor, all talking to their nearest neighbours. The ex-Prime- Minister enters and crosses the room. All of the workers in her neighbourhood are strongly attracted to her and cluster round her. As she moves she attracts the people she comes close to, while the ones she has left return to their even spacing. Because of the knot of people always clustered around her she acquires a greater mass than normal, that is, she has more momentum for the same speed of movement across the room. Once moving she is harder to stop, and once stopped she is harder to get moving again because the clustering process has to be restarted.
In three dimensions, and with the complications of relativity, this is the Higgs mechanism. In order to give particles mass, a background field is invented which becomes locally distorted whenever a particle moves through it. The distortion - the clustering of the field around the particle - generates the particle's mass. The idea comes directly from the Physics of Solids. Instead of a field spread throughout all space a solid contains a lattice of positively charged crystal atoms. When an electron moves through the lattice the atoms are attracted to it, causing the electron's effective mass to be as much as 40 times bigger than the mass of a free electron. The postulated Higgs field in the vacuum is a sort of hypothetical lattice which fills our Universe. We need it because otherwise we cannot explain why the Z and W particles which carry the Weak Interactions are so heavy while the photon which carries Electromagnetic forces is massless.
2. The Higgs Boson.
Now consider a rumour passing through our room full of uniformly spread political workers. Those near the door hear of it first and cluster together to get the details, then they turn and move closer to their next neighbours who want to know about it too.  A wave of clustering passes through the room. It may spread out to all the corners, or it may form a compact bunch which carries the news along a line of workers from the door to some dignitary at the other side of the room.
Since the information is carried by clusters of people, and since it was clustering which gave extra mass to the ex-Prime Minister, then the rumour-carrying clusters also have mass. The Higgs boson is predicted to be just such a clustering in the Higgs field. We will find it much easier to believe that the field exists, and that the mechanism for giving other particles mass is true, if we actually see the Higgs particle itself. Again, there are analogies in the Physics of Solids. A crystal lattice can carry waves of clustering without needing an electron to move and attract the atoms. These waves can behave as if they are particles. They are called phonons, and they too are bosons. There could be a Higgs mechanism, and a Higgs field throughout our Universe, without there being a Higgs boson. The next generation of colliders will sort this out.

from David J. Miller, Physics and Astronomy, University College London.
(cartoons courtesy of CERN).

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

LHC cam

Just one more post.  Then I go nurse my head:

LHC Hooray

The beams are up to power, they're aligned together, waiting for them to become stable...

It's astonishing that the two beams of protons were separated by only 3mm around the 27km ring, before they reached 3.5TeV each and were brought together in grand 7TeV collisions.

Now there are collisions but the experiments aren't switched on and the beams aren't stable.  They're waiting until everything's perfectly aligned and stable before they insert protective collimators (in case something goes astray) and open the delicate detectors.

Collimators in, beams tidied, and now they're happy with the beam conditions they're going to declare it 'stable' and not touch any of the beam controls for as long as they can - they estimate 2 hours

Collisions!  Data!  Jubilation! 

The data already being recieved are being described as 'beautiful' - I can't wait to see more, and perhaps to learn how to 'read' the image records.  The webcast has included live collision record images from the ATLAS experiment, which I'll admit are pretty snazzy looking. 

It's wonderful to see and hear the celebration and enthusiasm of such an incredible communal endeavour coming together. 

Unfortunately my head hurts too much now so I'm going to have to stop writing and just listen to the 'cast.  More later!