Wednesday, August 03, 2011 flowers and butterflies, particle accelerators need no excuse.

Via Bayou Renaissance Man:
In trying to determine exactly how the universe came into existence, scientists have been recreating sub-atomic explosions - like the one that may have happened around the time of the big bang - using atom-sized particles of lead.

They shoot the particles through a 16-mile long accelerator at the speed of light and when the particles collide in a vacuum colder than -271 Celsius, they put on a spectacular show.


'So by studying these we can learn more about what the universe is made from and perhaps one day how it all began.'
Dude, it's cool. You don't need to make any excuses for crashing things into each other at the speed of light in an underground tunnel longer than Manhattan that's had the air pumped out and been chilled to a couple degrees above absolute zero. That doesn't need a reason. You can just say "We're crashing stuff into things and junk at the speed of light because it's frickin' awesome and you're just jealous. Nyah, nyah, nyah!"


Firehand said...

You remind me of Adam on Mythbusters as he tested the automatic paintball gun mount on a test car: "You SO wish you were me right now!"

Stretch said...

Dear Global Warmist,

This is what REAL science looks like.

Bram said...

Have you been reading my mind?

russell1200 said...

Yeah but to get them going that fast they have to use those teflon coated cop killer rounds!

TheMinuteman said...

You know what else is fun, doing MIL-S-901D shock testing. Heavy weight shock is the most fun and I told my boss should we ever do it, I'll volunteer. Absent that we have a certified lightweight shock machine in house.

You know you're in the right place when "light weight shock" imparts enough force to weld a quarter and nickle together.

Armed Texan said...

I hate when journalists try to report on sciencey things like particle physics. I wonder just how many atoms of lead are in "atom-sized particles of lead".

Joseph said...

You don't need to make any excuses for crashing things into each other at the speed of light in an underground tunnel longer than Manhattan that's had the air pumped out and been chilled to a couple degrees above absolute zero.

That depends on who is paying for it. If you're asking for my tax dollars, you better have a damned good reason that actually accomplishes something. You know, the opposite of what NASA has been doing since we left the moon.

Joel said...

Joseph beat me to it, I'm afraid. I'd completely agree with you, Tam, if you only added the codicil "when they're not running on stolen money."

parabarbarian said...

The first virtue is Curiosity. It is what leads us to seek the truth. It is not the only reason to seek the truth but it has a purity that other reasons lack: It leads us to seek truth for the sake of knowing what is true.

Anonymous said...

I used this same excuse when I was blowing up model cars and airplanes with firecrackers as a kid.

Tam said...


I assumed that anybody who'd been reading my blog for more than a couple days would take that as a given.

(Although, there's the further thought that, given that the money's already stolen, at least use it for something cool. I'd rather they use it to buy particle accelerators than hookers & blow for ne'er-do-wells.)

Matthew said...

I used to like David Letterman back in the days when one could be assured something was getting dropped off a 5-story tower in the course of the show.

WV: deake - what you feel after deworkout

NotClauswitz said...

It's all stolen money, all the way down, turtle after turtle. Particle accelerators YES, semi-high-speed choo-choo trains to nowhere NO!

Anonymous said...

So do we get sub atomic Bangs or Kabooms or Blams?

If you blow something up and nobody calls the cops or fire department was it really that much fun?


GuardDuck said...

Hey, what's the purpose of being in congress if you can't get a little taxpayer funded hookers and blow?

Anonymous said...

Absent government funding, there would hardly be any basic research done in the US. Virtually all basic scientific research is government funded, and major efforts like space telescopes or particle accelerators require significant amounts of money.

It is extraordinarily rare to find a private corporation or institution that funds basic science at any level, never mind at the level required to build a particle accelerator like this. It is even more extraordinary and rare to find unbiased corporate-funded science.

Science is a tiny fraction of the federal budget, and science is hurting so badly right now, there is a serious danger of the system collapsing. Money has become so difficult to obtain that PI's (principal investigators) have to spend virtually all of their time writing grant proposals. Once the ratio of funded to non-funded proposals drops below a certain threshold (something like 1:7 I think?), nobody has time to do anything else.

Also: IIAPS (I Am A Professional Scientist.)

Tam said...

How did the science get done before the .gov started cutting the checks?

I'll say this: Grant proposals tend to be better-written than the sign that guy's holding at the freeway off-ramp, so we're getting something out of the educational system, at least.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Tiny pieces of lead moving at the speed of light smashing into things in sub-zero temperature. So which Federale Agency needs to put in
"Common Sense Regulations" before it makes the streets run red with Blood: EPA, NASA, or BATFEIEIO?

And who makes Holsters for this Super Gun?

Christopher said...

Paid for by tax payer money from bankrupt countries which cannot honer their debts or obligations to their citizenry.

Science isn't privately funded now exactly because it is funded by the government.

Nothing is so important that it can be justifiably funded by theft. No, not even the things you happen to like.

In fact, if you have to force people to pay for something, you are implicitly admitting that you couldn't fund it voluntarily. Thus you cannot argue that it is the will of the people, or even appeal to their best interests.

We learned this in first grade, don't hit people and don't take their stuff.

global village idiot said...

I'll allow the cool stuff, adding only the thought that I find the premise behind particle colliders somewhat skewed.

Trying to figure out the order of Nature and Nature's Law by smashing two particles together is a bit like trying to figure out how a watch works by smashing it against an anvil.


Dan said...

-271 C is absolute zero; it cannot get colder. I am such a nerd for focusing on that.

Anonymous said...

How was science funded before govt grants?
Poorly. Certainly corporations would fund research more if the government weren't, but the Big Science paradigm of the past 50 years cannot work without government grants. Small, individual labs cannot muster the resources to produce much of value.
And if the military is a valid expenditure for government, then fundamental research must be. You can't have a stealth fighter without a whole chain of research projects, from basic E&M all the way to the design phase, with thousands of projects that don't bear fruit (but are often useful in different unexpected ways) in between.

Flame away.
(yeah, one guess what I do for a living...)

tmc said...

Dan: −273.15 °C

BGMiller said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your title for this post.

It have been my experience that flowers generally do need an excuse. At least it seems that every time I've brought flowers to the long suffering soul that tolerates me they're generally greeted with, "okay, now what fool thing have have you done?"

Of course it is only a coincidence that some minor accident may have occurred near where I was minding my own business shortly before I decided to bring her flowers. And I don't know who might have gotten a little over-eager with the hedge trimmers.....maybe Sumdood is trying his hand at landscaping....


Anonymous said...

How did the science get done before the .gov started cutting the checks?

There are two answers to that question.

The first is, science was done by those who were independently wealthy, or as a hobby. Einstein's most famous work was done in his spare time while he worked as a patent clerk. This was much more useful and feasible in the 19th century. Today, it is rarely possible to do anything useful or interesting on such a small scale.

The second answer is, large scale scientific projects simply weren't done 60+ years ago, before the NSF and DoE existed. In many fields, science has progressed to the point where only large and expensive projects are capable of yielding interesting results. Private entities generally do not have sufficient resources for this (a possible exception is the pharmaceutical industry, but that also raises the issue of profit motive and bias).

If it weren't for government funding, progress in science and technology would have stalled long ago.


TinCan Assassin said...

I wonder if they cast those particles of lead or swaged them. Were they jacketed? Gas checked? Were they launched with one granule of Blue Dot? Why can't I go to this Mini-Boomershoot? Oh, and what is the rifling twist in the Particle Accelerator? Now we know what caliber for the Universe.

Tam said...


"If it weren't for government funding, progress in science and technology would have stalled long ago."

And where's your control for that experiment? ;)

Discobobby said...

Your controls are the former "Global Empires"' whose brightest citizens we now employ stateside to further our own goals. Sucks to have lost, old chap.

The Chinese are catching up with a breathtakingly efficient intelligence collection program, total disrespect for IP laws and their own ingenuity and world class researchers.. A combination the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be interesting to watch to see if it's enough to displace us from the world stage, or only be enough to keep their own simmering problems at bay. I sincerely hope they do not fail at the latter.

Tam said...


"Your controls are the former "Global Empires"' whose brightest citizens we now employ stateside to further our own goals. Sucks to have lost, old chap."

So the Soviet Union left science research funding up to free enterprise while we supported ours with government funding? Er... uh... that's not how I read it. ;)

John Stephens said...

Someone should attach a Picatinny rail to the tube of a PA somewhere. To make it tactical.

wv: thedge. A tactical particle accelerator would definitely give it to you.

Anonymous said...

Dear IIAPS (I Is A Professional Scientist?):

Everything I need to know about "grants" and "government funding" I learned from Ghost Busters...

Yeah, I know your next line: "Back off man!"


Bubblehead Les. said...

Wait a minute. This has been buzzing in my head all day. So these P.A.s are few and far between, are buried underground, and we only know that they are up and running when the light flashes. So, by design, they can only come in one Tacticool Color: Rare, Dark, Earth.

Thank You and Good Night! And don't forget to Tip your Waitresses before you leave!

global village idiot said...

Discobobby, am I the only one here who thinks that, while the Klingons were stand-ins for the Soviet Union (ensign Checkov notwithstanding), the Borg are stand-ins for the Chinese?


Joseph said...

Not every scientist is in favor of government funding. For a dissenting view...

Divemedic said...

The automobile, the airplane, the steam engine, the transistor, vacuum tubes, the telephone, radio, diodes, and many other items were all invented without government interference or funding.

The reason that nearly all research is funded by governments is because research without government approval will get you arrested.

Spud said...

If it weren't for gov. funding of science, all these electronic doodads would not exist.

Tam said...


"If it weren't for gov. funding of science, all these electronic doodads would not exist."

You don't know that. You can't know that.

"X happened such-and-such a way, therefore, if it didn't happen such-and-such a way, X couldn't happen" isn't terrifically persuasive.

Railroads tend to get built when it's railroadin' time.

Shrimp said...

Personally, I'm of the opinion that gooberment "help" has significantly slowed us down, not sped us up, or even kept pace with where we might have been.

We should already have a space station (a real one, not Skylab 2.0), a lunar base and a Mars base. Instead, NASA has slowed us down, and we're busy taking pictures. If the exploration of the new world was left up to NASA instead of Lewis & Clark, we'd have reached the Mississippi and stopped, and been told that it was simply too dangerous to get to the Pacific, but we can send a small wagon with a monkey in it to draw pictures of it.

But people might die if we explore space, they say. What do you think we're doing anyway? People are supposed to die. That's the whole point! That's how exploration is done. That's waht makes the discovery so much more meaningful, is that people gave their lives for it.

I'm not picking on NASA specifically, but they are a great magnet for the attention precisely because of how they showcase typical government inefficiency.

It is precisely because .gov is involved there is waste, mismanagement and delay. It's the same with everything they touch, in a perverse king Midas sort of way. Everything they touch turns to shit. Seriously, is there one thing that you can honestly say you'd rather the government had say over in your life that you couldn't do better?

parabarbarian said...

Historically, the most significant driver of firearms technology has been warfare. That is definitely a government project.

Free-range Oyster said...

"If it weren't for government funding, progress in science and technology would have stalled long ago."

"If it weren't for gov. funding of science, all these electronic doodads would not exist."

Neither of you spends much time around the hacker (in the old school sense) or DIY communities do you? Heck, there are people doing biotech research in their garage, turning out new developments and discoveries at a surprising-to-bureaucrats rate, simply because they can. Don't tell me the feds or any other similar gang of thugs has to get involved.

Matthew said...


Only because government monopolized it. If war was private we'd almost certainly have better, cheaper stuff. Condottieri don't have local constituents to appease. ;)

Lewis and Clark were in large part government funded and directed, but that was more a "contractor / employer" situation than a "government program" and Jefferson was at least as much driven by his own curiousity as the public interest it coincided with.

I believe there is a place for a model where government says "this is a worthy endeavor private industry is already interested in (thus is viable) that has legitimate government interests involved (as a Constitutionalist I believe there are several) so how can we help (if only by ensuring we don't hinder) to the extent our interests coincide?

NotClauswitz said...

The iPad is a gov. project? Apple has more money than the .gov does.

Anonymous said...

Railroads tend to get built when it's railroadin' time.

To compare science to infrastructure is to miss the point. Private entities very rarely fund basic science because there is little or no short-term ROI, and long-term ROI is uncertain or difficult to quantify.

Even areas of science which are potentially attractive to businesses are extraordinarily risky from a business perspective. Consider the pharmaceutical industry; only about 1 in 10,000 potential drug compounds succeeds in obtaining FDA approval, and most of those that are approved are not profitable. Part of the risk is due to strict government regulation, but quite honestly that is necessary. Look at the sordid history of pharmaceutical companies in Africa for an example of unregulated drug testing.

On the other end of the spectrum (pun intended), consider astronomy. It receives virtually no private funding. There are a few useful applications such as monitoring space junk and looking for near-Earth asteroids, but no private entity has ever funded such a project. There is no practical purpose in studying supernovae or galaxies aside from pure pursuit of knowledge. And yet, astronomy has enhanced our knowledge of physics and optics. Absent government funds the entire field would cease to exist, and a great deal of knowledge would simply be lost.

The Allen Telescope Array was highly unusual for being primarily funded by private sources. It closed recently for lack of funds after only a couple years of operation.

Free-Range Oyster:
Neither of you spends much time around the hacker (in the old school sense) or DIY communities do you?

I do, actually. But that's very different from doing basic science.

And just to give you an idea of the numbers: the total of all NSF budgets in history are less than the $757 billion DoD direct expenditures for the Iraq war. This is a rough guess based on current budget figures, but I expect even if you adjust for inflation, then all NSF appropriations since 1950 probably total just over half as much as the DoD spent for 8 years in Iraq. And then one could compare the two in terms of ROI and economic benefit per dollar spent...

- IAAPS (And yeah, I duped the wrong character before.)

Tam said...


"To compare science to infrastructure..."

That's just a saying. Like when I say "A bird in the hand...", I'm not necessarily referring to actual poultry. ;)

"[Astronomy] receives virtually no private funding."

Not any more, because government funding has driven private funding right out of the market, the same way that government largesse displaces private charity. Who built Mount Palomar?