Friday, 11 September 2015

Beautiful tiny things


Particle acceleration has never been as super cool as it is right now. Literally. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has recently been rebooted and its magnets have been cooled to a temperature of minus 271.3 degrees Celsius. The thought of that sort of cold puts a New Zealand winter into perspective. I wonder if one of the Collider curators had to call the LHC helpdesk to say the that the quarks had stopped, and a bored operator suggested a reboot. Who knows? In any case, the results of the restart have been impressive.

I've often thought that physicists have a gentle literary humour. Check out the elegant overtones in the LHC Beauty Detector or ALICE through the looking glass. Beauty scientists have identified up quarks, down quarks, strange quarks, charm quarks, top quarks and bottom quarks. All of this from the decaying bottom lambda particle, which actually doesn't sound very beautiful at all.

A theoretical physicist with a unique but not always gentle sense of humour is Dr Sheldon Cooper. Theoretical in both senses of the word. Who can forget the episode of The big bang theory where Penny asks him to teach her physics?

Other fictional characters have attempted to come to grips with the sciences, with varying degrees of success. Catherine Tate's Lauren reciting the Periodic Table of Elements is always guaranteed to generate a laugh.

Fictional scientists tend to be portrayed as having no style. As Lauren says, they commit terrible fashion crimes. In real life however, scientists are often chic, rich and single. Tatler magazine devoted recent coverage to Britain's top 30 geeks who are, apparently,"genuinely hot, successful and single." So if you are interested, you'd better get in quick, because singleness is not a steady state and these men and women may not stay that way for much longer.

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