Before you read another word, consider the fact that this topic, this blog, in fact the entire World-Wide-Web of hypertext and such would be impossible if it were not for basic applied research at a place called CERN. There, back in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues developed the concept, and this is an archived copy of the very first web page ever created!
And here's a two-minute overview of CERN, courtesy of YouTube:
Fascinating, yes? But that's only the tip of the CERN iceberg. There are few things on Earth that can get a science geek like me more excited than a discussion of what's going on with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.
This will puzzle non-scientists no end, especially those who are convinced that science is a pursuit of Truth with a capital 'T', but there is the very real possibility that when the LHC goes on-line, that data will emerge leading to the modification or even scrapping of the most powerful theory in the history of science, the Standard Model.
Imagine that! Scientists who are actually looking forward to the possibility that their theories might, in some way, be disproved! Tremendously exciting stuff!
Imagine my pleasure, then, in seeing that a young man from my very own church (Clovis Memorial UMC) is part of a CSU Fresno Physics Department venture with the LHC program. Talk about local boy makes good! You can read about Ben Zastovnik and the Fresno group involved in CERN research here. If you're not quite up-to-speed as to the scope, aims and likely impact of the LHC, the Guardian has a wonderful, detailed, accessible (there are lots of pictures) special section dedicated to the LHC, available here. (Hint: use the button that's labeled 'Enter interactive' to see all the bells-and-whistles.
The picture on the right, like every picture I've seen so far, does not do the LHC justice. To give you an idea, the copper-colored circle at the bottom of the image is just one of the layered components (in this case, a calorimeter 16 meters in diameter) of one of the assemblies of of the particle detectors in the LHC. This one is amusingly labeled the COMPACT Muon Solenoid (CMS). Keep in mind that the 'fish-eye' view of the photo shows components weighing hundreds of tons being lowered into a man-made cavern more than 100 meters below the Earth's surface, and that this is just one section of a pair of underground rings that traverse 27 kilometers between France and Switzerland, as shown in the illustration below left:
This is the largest and most complex machine ever developed! Here's an animated GIF (click on the photo and use the buttons to animate) showing another component of the CMS detector being lowered into place:
Now, ironically, there are facilities in California that accelerate particles too, among them the Lawrence Livermore Labs. I've visited both of these as a science teacher, and even have a couple of sinister-looking Edward Teller Education Center t-shirts that I sport on occasion.
Now, it's more than a bit ironic that I should say that, since elements within my church seem intent on focusing on the possible misapplication of nuclear technology by the Livermore people. Hey, that concerns me, too, though I think that they would be better off asking questions about Sandia, which is where nuclear weapons are actually manufactured, if accounts are to be believed. (Sandia Labs are just across a now-closed city street from the Livermore complex) But regardess of the exact 'offender', the whole complex has been chosen as a site to memorialize the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You can read about this service here.
Now, this service is being supported by some individual UMC congregations, such as Martinez UMC, which are affiliated in turn with this organization. Ironically, info about these events and the political agenda that goes with them were disseminated without comment or disclaimer within our local congregation, and (while I myself am not troubled by it) it provoked some of our more conservative members to complain of what seemed to them a de facto endorsement of the event. So what can I say? Methodists are a pretty diverse group. As Wesley said, on matters that are not central to the Christian faith, we think and let think.