Tuesday 9 September 2008

Matter. Anti-matter. Bang. Repeat.

When word started to filter out into science-ish blog land a few months ago, about the impending Large Hadron Collider deadline, the beginning of the experiments to generate little big bangs in a circular 17 mile long tube around Geneva, I was quite surprised. Because I had heard first about the LHC something like 15 years ago when I was piss young, and however I heard the news then, I just assumed that it was already happening. Of course I didn't call it the Large Hadron Collider, or even the LHC, and I didn't know the organisation organising it was called CERN, or any of that stuff that is so readily available to me online today, right now, as I type and fact-check and seek links to pepper through this post. Look at how beautiful it is.

Back then, and since I heard about it, CERN's Large Hadron Collider has been a part of my repertoire of conversational metaphors. I was deeply excited about it when I heard about it, and I have been talking about it ever since. A typical CERN moment might run something like this:

[time: 5.30 am, place: somebody's attic flat in Ranelagh or a shotgun house in Algiers Point, New Orleans, and the kind of 15 hour conversation that is a rolling stream of inspiration and widening energy]

Lucy: And that reminds me of this thing that they've built, somewhere in Switzerland, Zurich I think, and they have this machine that circles the city, way underground, and it recreates the big bang several times every hour! Imagine that! The origins of our existence, the moment of the birth of the whole manifest universe, happening quietly underground, in a lab in the middle of Europe...

The layers of the concept just kind of blew my mind every time I thought about it. I've even met Swiss people and talked about it to them, and they have all nodded and smiled sagely, yes, that's the LHC, yes, that's right, we are a very advanced people with our chocolate and our watches and NOW, OUR LHC!! But nobody mentioned the fact that it wasn't actually in operation yet.

So now it's really really happening, like, tomorrow. And actually, the fact that it hasn't been really really happening for the past 15 years has been kind of blowing my mind all over again, for the past couple of months.

One of the possible outcomes of these little hourly mini-recreations of the origin of the universe is that there might (tiny possibility, granted, but cool enough to mention) be created a tiny tiny baby black hole that will rapidly suck up all the spacetime around it, and thus gobble up the solar system, and god knows, maybe the galaxy in which we live. Wow. Awesome (in the biblical sense, not the californian surfer dude sense. Hm. Actually, both). This is how we would die. But can you imagine the moments just before? Seeing the black hole gulping up the galaxy from the inside around? Imagine how that would look? "A stream of atoms descending toward the abyss..." That ain't no pixillation, baby...

So they start sending particles around tomorrow in a clockwise direction, then the next week they'll send them anti-clockwise, just to get the Collider nice and warmed up. It'll be a few weeks before they start banging them together. First, some tests around the track. So. In a couple of weeks time, keep your eyes peeled. If you're gonna get spaghetticised, you'd probably want to at least catch a glimpse of the spectacular view.


  1. given that i'm closer to Geneva than you are, though on the scale of things... little black holes... big black holes, and the fact that i've heard about it for the first time from a visiting friend [yes in this day and age i still manage to live a sheltered life] i could take this to be a sign... perhaps a portent that......... that what? mans ultimate disregard for cause and effect might hoist him right up his own black petard and bring us face to face with Aristotle's principle 'everything either is or is not' ball returned by Ionesco: 'everything is there always, and its exhausting' pixillated or not; maybe see you on the other side of spaghetticised [which for some reason reminds me of Getty and connects to why i stumbled on your blog = photography, go for that film camera - it could be your last chance]

  2. Hiya Alek! Your comment made me read it several times. I got it on the second go. I agree with Aristotle, everything either is or is not, but you know really, if it is a 'thing', then it probably 'is'. I think everything is, so I am actually disagreeing with Aristotle there. And sometimes it is exhausting, and sometimes it rocks. Yes, I'd probably be reaching for a lens in the last minutes anyway, and I would want it to be film, my true love. Thanks for dropping by. There are pictures on my main site. I have tonnes more to update soon, documentation of current shows and things...