9 June 2013

Dark Matter

I met a Swiss dude last night who I thought was mad at first because he seemed very strange. After speaking to him for a while though I realized that he was just brilliant. He was a genius. The Swiss man's name was Gabriel and he is a mathematician and a Particle Physicist. Once we got talking I quickly established that he was a very smart and interesting person.

Uber interesting in fact.

He was very shy and it took a while for him to engage with me but I persisted. I generally do. Once we got talking about his job he opened right up. I asked Gabriel lots of questions and he gave me lots of answers. I wrote some of what he told me down. I scrawled notes on both sides of a serviette. The serviette got damp from beer and wine and melting ice as we were in a social setting.

I am trying to read some of my blurred notes now and it is not easy for the ink has run and smeared. Gabriel and I were both drinking iced water so we were sober but we were surrounded by loud and rowdy drunks.

We didn't mind.

The word serviette is French. It's English translation means 'napkin' or 'towel'.  Interestingly the word 'napkin' also has French origins - although to me it sounds a bit Scottish. It is a derivation of the French word "naperon' which is some form of apron thing. The French are obviously big on the use of such items and serviettes are very useful. They keep crumbs off us and can also be used to write notes on. Don't get them wet though if you write on them as the ink runs and blurs and it is then difficult to read.

I suspect that Gabriel has Asperger Syndrome. Many very smart people do - well some at least. The syndrome is actually a type of autism that was unremarkably named by an Austrian pediatrician called Hans Asperger. Hans suffered from a vanity complex and he named the syndrome in 1944. This was at the tail end of the Second World War. I have not established if Asperger had any Nazi connections or whether he was involved in any of the horrific experiments conducted by Josef Mengele - the infamous and absolutely evil Doctor of Auschwitz.

I could find no literature to support this.

The Second World War was often referred to as 'the war to end all wars'.  More than sixty million people were killed in the conflict and it did not end all wars either. Far from it. War rages still across the planet.

It is an abomination.

Modern day medical and psychological practitioners argue that persons with Asperger do not 'suffer' from the condition. Some have difficulties coping with social interactions but they are also often blessed with incredible cognitive abilities. I found Gabriel to be a little socially awkward but he was most definitely brilliant. He was remarkable in fact and he is working in a fascinating field.

When I asked Gabriel what exactly it is that a Particle Physicist does he told me that there are a number of different fields of endeavour. He told me that his main area of interest and expertise was in the study of Dark Matter. Gabriel spends much of his time in the Swiss city of Cern where he works with more than 7,000 other scientists on the Large Hadron Collider. He refers to this as an acronym - it is the LHC.

Gabriel informed me that the LHC is the largest machine ever built by man. I told him that I already knew this because I have read about it before. The LHC is an enormous twenty seven kilometer tunnel of super conducting magnets and it is constructed more than one hundred meters underground. Gabriel told me that if you didn't know that it was there you wouldn't notice it. Apparently cows graze in fields directly above it.  These are Swiss cows with bells around their necks.

He told me that the machine cost more than $9 billion to construct. When I asked him if that was in US dollars he confirmed that it was. The machine was turned on in September 2008 but it took more than eight years to build. I am not sure what the value of the US dollar was back then but it is atrocious now. America has a grossly dysfunctional economy with a very weak currency at the moment.

Gabriel informed me that the LHC was turned on in September 2008. He told me this several times so I have also repeated it. Perhaps I am also Asperger’s? Ten days after it was turned on it blew up. A minor fault in an electrical circuit triggered a huge discharge of liquid helium that destroyed a large part of the machinery. Gabriel told me that he was there when it happened and it occurred on his birthday. He told me that his party was ruined.

The machine was repaired at a cost of more than another one billion dollars and has been running beautifully ever since. The machine smashes particles called protons into each other at near speeds of light and then scientists analyze the results.

I asked Gabriel to try and dumb down his explanations of the machine and his work for me. I told him that I was not very bright. He told me that he would try and I think that he did try - however a lot of what he said still went over my head.

Gabriel informed me that many people think that the world and the universe is made up of particles and matter but it actually is not. He told me that everything is made up of fields and they hold everything together. The LHC is actually a study of fields and waves and Particles are just a part of this. Gabriel told me about protons and neutrons and electrons and he explained quarks and quantum mechanics. He endeavored to explain what Chaos Theory was all about but I found it incredibly difficult to follow his train of thought and explanations even though I was riveted.

I made a lot of notes on the paper serviette.

I told Gabriel that I had heard that the illusive Higgs boson particle had recently been discovered and identified at the LHC and he confirmed that it had. He got a little excited when he told me this and he became a bit animated. Gabriel told me that this happened in July last year and another boson had also since been discovered. When I asked what exactly a boson was he told me that it was a sub-atomic particle that didn't spin like other particles did. When I asked him if the Higgs boson particle was in fact the "God Particle" he scoffed. He told me that there was no place for religion in science but he was confident that further experiments and investigations of these discoveries might make for an understanding how everything and everyone came to be - and what holds it all together.

Gabriel informed me that the LHC is now closed for further upgrades to increase it's already massive energy inputs. He said that it will not open again for another couple of years and Gabriel hopes to then continue his studies on Dark Matter.

Dark Matter is mysterious energy that absorbs all light and is something that is impossible to see or feel. It is nothingness that has a powerful force but has the ability to consume everything. Black holes are made of Dark Matter. Gabriel told me quite a lot about his Dark Matter studies and he talked about space time continuums and things like time travel and anti-matter and parallel universes. I listened intently and with great interest but I had ran out of space on my serviette to take any more adequate notes.

I had run out of continuum as well.

I asked Gabriel whether Dark Matter really did matter and he looked quite puzzled so my poor attempt at humor was wasted. The Swiss are not known for their wit and neither are Asperger people so I told him to carry on.

At another point in our conversation I asked Gabriel whether the LHC was being used to conduct any type of weapons development and he told me that he didn't think that it was. He told me without asking that I shouldn't fear extremist Muslims using the LHC to make any super weapons. I told him that I would be more worried about the Americans using it this way. I told Gabriel that the Americans have a long history of war mongering and developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction and he nodded his head in agreement.

Then I went home with my damp serviette crammed with my scrawl of amazing facts and data stuffed in my pocket.

I was very tired and my head is still spinning with interesting and new information.

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