I590 Physics Comments. Comments I. Hadn’t heard much about this before Contribution to fundamental knowledge generally considered worth it “Particle Physics” is the core of “all theories” Not clear if practical use
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Contribution to fundamental knowledge generally considered worth it
“Particle Physics” is the core of “all theories”
Not clear if practical use
Note “blue sky” research often done. Although result not “expected”, accelerator and experiments designed to look for “fundamental (short distance, large mass) effects
IU “fundamental accelerator” of past now devoted to medical applications
Amazing that took 40 years
Highly non trivial activity
Accelerator, magnet, computing and detector technology needed to advance
Next step here not obvious as no “silver bullets”
Striking worldwide collaboration with incredible persistence/dedication
The engineering feat alone to run these experiments was remarkable to me. I also thought it is really indicative of the importance of data intensive science that some of the most important research questions in physics require big data in order to come up with valid conclusions. To me, I found the discussion of the need for a large quantity of experiments in order to find the “bumps” in the histograms to be a good illustration of the relationship between sample size and statistical error.
I was very surprised by the cost and the number of scientists working on each of the Higgs Boson projects. I had of course heard of the projects, but had no idea of the actual scale. I believe that it is worth the money and effort because it increases our understanding of the way the world works, as well as making further scientific discoveries possible.
Here's an interesting article that takes issue with the use of plus or minus the square root of N, where N is the number of events for a given bin in a histogram, to calculate the error bars for the bin: Those Deceiving Error Bars -- http://www.science20.com/quantum_diaries_survivor/those_deceiving_error_bars-85735
Here is an excellent book on data analytic thinking: Data Science for Business: What you need to know about data mining and data-analytic thinking by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett
Particle research is basic research. The discovery of the Higgs Boson has no immediate practical application. However, the history of science shows that a blend of basic and applied research is optimal. Applied science builds off the basic science.
The fact that a multinational consortium can both fund this experiment and work together as a team is as fascinating to me as the 'bump.' Was it worth it? Of course. Why do we pursue any scientific efforts? To make sense of our world and turn those discoveries into practical applications that advance our way of life.
The question of whether it was worth all of the money that was spent -- i.e., $13.25B -- is a much more difficult question and to some extent is water under the bridge. Nevertheless, if we would have asked this question of the US Congress in 1993, they would have answered no. In 1991, the US began construction on its own accelerator in Texas, but in 1993 Congress cancelled the project when its projected cost approached $12B -- well above the originally approved budget of $4.4B.
Since I have a background in philosophy, I decided to see if the discovery might relate to something like the fine-tuning argument. For people who are interested, here is a good explanation with two possible refutations.http://home.olemiss.edu/~namanson/Fine%20tuning%20argument.pdf
"What the LHC does or doesn’t discover in its next run is likely to lend support to one of two possibilities: Either we live in an overcomplicated but stand-alone universe, or we inhabit an atypical bubble in a multiverse. “We will be a lot smarter five or 10 years from today because of the LHC,” Seiberg said. “So that’s exciting. This is within reach.”"
What I found most interesting was that we do not observe the actual particle, but the after effects of its existence. I was also not aware of the massive number of events required to make such conclusions. I expected more of a typical experimental process where events would occur far less frequently, data would be collected, measured, debated, and conclusions would be drawn. I suppose this really illustrates my last exposure to the scientific process was high school chemistry.
What I found interesting in the Higgs Boson discovery is the detail in conducting the experiment. I didn't realize that you had a high number of collisions running at about the same time. I always thought that you ran the accelerator and got one hit, gathered the data and then ran the next. What didn't surprise me was the cost.