Big Science News of the Year 2009

The LHC Tunnel

Dr. Neil Turok

It is most probable that the biggest story of the year is yet untold and will be the subject of some Nobel Prize in the future. These things remain hidden and are done by people we often have never heard of, because they are scholars.    There were two stories, however, that Canada can be very proud of and they quietly made news this year.  Both of them concern the Perimeter Institute (PI) in Waterloo, Ontario started by Blackberry founder Mike Lazaridis.

The Perimeter Institute is Canada's and one of the world's most prestigious Physics Think Tanks rivaling any in the US, Europe or Asia.  It is now mentioned in the same breath as Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, CERN in Europe and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Lazaridis set up PI with a 100 year charter and a group of some of the most gifted physicists in the world. The Canadian Government quietly spent big dollars on PI's new building and nothing but good things have come out of the Lazaridis venture so far.

This year a major coup was achieve by luring away Neil Turok from Cambridge University where he held the chair in mathematical physics. He has had a productive career working with many of the most famous names in Physics including Stephen Hawking of "A Brief History of Time" fame.  Hawking is probably the most famous scientist in the world today, known for his great mind and wheel chair existence while being Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a chair once held by Newton.

Turok and Hawking have collaborated on seminal work about the beginnings of the Universe.  So the second dramatic story of the year concerns the news that Hawking himself will spend as much as six months a year at the Perimeter Institute in the next few years.  That's big news for Canada.

The third story concerns the Large Hadron Collider located on the Swiss-French border.  The LHC is the largest and most complicated machine ever constructed.  Its purpose is to explore the very meaning of the Universe from the Big Bang to the future of the known and unknown universe.

(next column)

13/01/2009 04:11 PM


Stephen Hawking

Deep in the bedrock on the spine of Europe sits the most complicated machine every conceived or built by man.  It is in a giant circle of 27 km around and in some places over 500 feet deep. 

As might be expected it was turned on with great fanfare on September 10, 2008.  On September 19, it was turned off because of a fault in the giant magnets that bend protons around the circuit at 99.999999% of the speed of light.

It will not be operational again until the summer of 2009. At that time it will again try to control and examine the collisions of protons whirring around under the Swiss-French border. Scientists and the general public have really gotten into this thing and are eagerly awaiting the secrets that it might find.

The questions awaiting answers are many, but a few are:

  • Why is gravity such a weak force?  After all the tiny atom is held together by tremendous forces. What about dark matter and gravity?
  • Are extra dimensions at work in the very complicated Quantum World way below our ability to see. This refers to the theoretical conjecture called String Theory, which says that the very core of the universe may consist of string-like particles curled and tangled up with each other.  It would be like looking at a mass of hoses all in a jumble with a big telescope from Mars. To the viewer they may look flat, but are they?  At present the observer is too far away to tell and so is only guessing.

So the three top stories of the year that we know about are:

  • Turok comes to PI as Director

  • Hawking agrees to come ... the superstar.

  • LHC turned on, fails and should be turned on again in the summer of 2009.

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