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David Horsey | Tribune Media Services

A weeny bit of smashing news


Times Columnist

This is a big deal. Whatever it is.

With the possible exception of trying to figure out what then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was talking about, few stories manage to make their way into the mainstream media that almost no one in the general public without a PhD in physics has any remote clue of understanding.

But it seems some folks in Geneva the other day found something called the Higgs boson particle. Or perhaps they didn't. But they may have come close. Who knows for sure? It is awfully small.

Apparently the pocket-protector community has been looking for the mysterious speck since around the early 1960s, when a very smart guy named Peter Higgs theorized that the whatsit was out there somewhere.

And thus the hunt was on!

To find the Higgs boson thingamajig, they had to build the Hadron Collider in Switzerland, a $10 billion, nearly 17-mile tunnel to smash stuff in the hopes of finding the particle that they are not sure can be found. But you never know. Maybe they did.

Not to be too much of a party pooper here, but is it all that unreasonable to expect that after spending $10 billion to construct a state-of-the-art scientific answer to Whac-A-Mole the egghead crowd could at least blow up enough dust to find the sacred fleck?

Don't you suspect the same results could have been realized much more cheaply by simply overserving Mel Gibson and then having him drive through a tunnel?

That's why the micro-micro crumb is also called the God particle. According to all those overachievers who actually paid attention in high school biology class, a discovery is supposed to hold the key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe, which puts a disproportional amount of pressure on a itsy-bitsy subatomic period.

Or as Bloomberg News tried to explain: "Scientists believe that, at a quantum level, the forces that cause quarks and leptons to attract and repel each other are carried by bosons." Glad to clear everything up for you.

Sorta makes you glad you were an art history major, doesn't it?

If the discovered jot does indeed turn out to the Higgs boson particle, the smarty pants types claim it could hold the key to understanding the nature of reality. Quick, can we inject it into the Fox News anchors as soon as possible? Make it a double.

In labs around the world scientists reacted to the possible discovery of the Higgs boson smidgen as if they had just witnessed a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. Champagne corks popped, and Higgs, who is now 84, was given a Bruce Springsteen ovation.

It's just an idle thought, but how would you like to be the graduate assistant lab technician responsible for protecting the only known — and invisible — result of 50 years of painstaking research by hundreds of scientists and billions of dollars of expense, only to accidentally drip some Mountain Dew on the specimen?

Despite all the hoopla, the petri dish types have been quick to point out that while whatever it is they blew up sure looks like it could be the cute-as-the-dickens Higgs boson morsel, the blip could be something else, or nothing at all, or perhaps an imposter like a poppy seed that fell off a bagel while someone was plugging in the collider.

Still, you have to admire the perseverance. There aren't too many of us who would be willing to dedicate decades of our lives looking for something that might not exist and if it does will be smaller than the head of a pin meets a pimple on a gnat's patootie meets the width of an eyelash — only tinier.

Imagine 50 years of coming home every night and when the spouse asked, "How was work today, honey, did you find that particle yet?" having to answer: "For the umpteenth time, no. But we're still looking." Most of us have yet to find — and never will — that missing sock from the last load of laundry.

Nearly 50 percent of all Americans believe in creationism. So it's highly doubtful that too many of these folks are going to buy into the notion that a pinprick millions of times smaller than an atom holds the key to understanding the roots of the universe.

Perhaps the white smock types should turn their attention to more pragmatic questions, such as why did we need another Spider-Man movie? Now there's a mystery.

Daniel Ruth can be reached at

A weeny bit of smashing news 07/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 5, 2012 9:08pm]
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