Saturday, 26 April 2014

The God Particle


As they approached the Large Hadron Collider he spotted a few buildings scattered throughout the dense green forest but not many. Since passing through the security checkpoint the scenery became postcard beautiful rather than cutting edge science. The driver of the minivan turned to Cardinal Bernosa and commented "Not much to see on the surface, all the fun stuff happens under ground."

The Cardinal smiled at the young assistant they had sent to collect him from the airport. Cardinal Bernosa was getting very warm in his traditional robes including his red Galero hat. Perhaps he had overdressed for the occasions but he believed the possibility of scientifically confirming the existence of God should not be devoid of ceremony. It was not every day a mere man would witness the beginning of creation. Cardinal Bernosa was by nature a most unassuming person, he believed most could be learned through thoughtful silence rather than boastful clamour. His doctorate in Particle Physics and seat on the International Steering Committee for Elemental Advancement, testified to his rapier like intellect. Balanced with his passion for science was a fundamental and unshakable faith in the Lord.

The mini-van glided to a halt in front of an angular building. The sign over the door pronounced ATLAS. It was one of the four monitoring stations along the length of the twenty seven kilometre long ring of supercooled magnets that ran beneath their feet. The Cardinal was expected and two distinguished looking gentlemen were waiting on the kerb. One opened the door for him, it was great to stretch his legs after the journey from Rome. Cardinal Bernosa was an imposing figure standing well over six feet tall, he towered above the smiling scientists.
"Your Eminence," said one of the men bending to kiss his ring.
"Please Stephen, old friends should not be so formal," taking the man by the shoulders and kissing him on each cheek. Then he held out his hand for the second scientist to shake," Delighted to make your acquaintance Doctor Rice, your reputation is legendary."

"Please Your Eminence, call me Richard," he said shaking the outstretched hand warmly. "You must be tired after your long journey. Perhaps you would like to freshen up before we begin?"

"On the contrary gentlemen, I'm most eager to get started."
"In that case Your Eminence, right this way," said Professor Stephen Castor leading the way through the heavy glass door that slid soundlessly open at his approach.

***

The elevator descended into the bowels of the earth so smoothly Cardinal Bernosa wondered if they were moving at all. No expense seemed to have been speared in building this facility. The elevator opened on a large room packed with computer equipment. The air conditioning was creating a cool breeze even though they were hundreds of feet underground. An army of technicians were monitoring consoles and running diagnostics. The scientists excused themselves to oversee preparations for the experiment.

Cardinal Bernosa busied himself by studying the camera displays, one image showed the tube that formed the heart of this massive facility. A curving pipe wrapped in superconducting electronic magnets which would drive individual particles at near the speed of light, the magnets worked at temperatures colder than the vacuum of space. Cardinal Bernosa was completely familiar with the perimeters of today's experiment. They intended to create Ununoctium 294, the heaviest element ever encountered by man. In history only a few particles of Isotope 294Uun have briefly existed. Today they were going to bombard particles of Californium 294 with particles of Calcium 48 at immense speed. It was projected that during this procedure, they had a chance of recording the mythical God Particle. 

Doctor Rice tapped him gently on the shoulder, waking him from dreams of galaxys within atoms, "We are ready to begin Your Eminence."
"Wonderful," he said allowing himself to be led towards a bank of monitors. When everyone was in place Doctor Rice took centre stage and began conducting his white-coated orchestra.
"Increase flow of Liquid Helium to eighty percent," directed Rice.
"Flow at eighty percent, magnet temperature minus two hundred and seventy degrees," responded a technician moments later.
"Magnetic fields in the green?" asked Rice.
"Fields green and holding Doctor," said a different worker.
"Introduce particles to the stream, begin acceleration." From under their feet a hum was sensed rather than heard as millions of volts of electric current coursed through the massed magnets, accelerating invisible particles of matter to speeds beyond imagining.  From the far end of a room yet another lab worker added his voice to the scientific opera "Streams at optimum, crossing in three two one .."
Just like that the experiment was over.  All over the room shoulders tensed and breaths were held, a screen in the middle of the room flashed into life with a kaleidoscope of particle paths in a myriad of colours. After a second or two of intense study the element they were looking for was identified Ununoctium 294, element 118 on the periodic table had been created. A huge cheer went up. The data would take months of decryption but at a glance the experiment was a success.

Professor Castor and Doctor Rice slapped shoulders and smiled wildly at each other. Cardinal Bernosa hung his head and said a silent prayer for enlightenment while at the far end of the room one man remain glued to his station, unaffected by the celebrations around him. "Excuse me sir, we have matter in the tube."
Professor Castor frowned, "Are you saying there was contamination? That just can't be."
"No sir, we appear to have an exotic remnant."

Cardinal Bernosa was familiar with the concept of such remnants. In the nanoseconds following the particle collision a fountain of Quarks are blown free. If two quarks crash head on into each other they can create a miniature black hole which last momentarily before disintegrating again. Theoretically such matter could be left behind.

"That's fantastic," enthused Doctor Rice. "How long did it last?"
"That's the thing Doctor, it's still there." This statement sent the room into a frenzy of activity, people ran in all directions gathering data, unable to believe what was happening. A stable exotic remnant was essentially a particle created at the centre of a black hole all be it a tiny one. This could well be a fundamental building block of the universe as yet undiscovered.

Cardinal Bernosa stood quietly in the background and observed, he was forgotten as the frontiers of science were redrawn. It was only he who heard the technician mutter "It's growing." The Cardinal knew that was not possible, if anything it should be shedding matter. Extreme elements such as this were very unstable, it was a miracle that it had lasted this long.
"Are you saying it's expanding?"
"No sir, its growing, its feeding."
"I don't understand."
"The remnant is absorbing the particles of Californium and Calcim that remain. It is not getting any bigger its just getting heavier."
"Perhaps its is adding the remaining atoms to its make up, transforming itself into something else."
"It's to early to be sure but the computer is giving a static atomic weight for the remnant. It is just absorbing everything it touches."
"What's is its atomic weight?"
"The computer is calculating the remnant would appear on the periodic table with a weight of 666."

Cardinal Bernosa backed away, his mind in a frenzy trying to make sense of what was going on. It is said that when you eliminate the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. While the scientists excitedly gathered information on what was occurring the truth of the situation dawned on Cardinal Bernosa. The dual reality of his mind allowed him to accept what science would struggle to comprehend. If there was a possibility of exposing a God Particle, a creator particle, there must be an equal possibility of there being a destroyer. Cardinal Bernosa blessed himself and made his peace with the lord. He imagined the growing pressure within that tiny particle as more and more matter became crushed upon itself. With pressure came heat, incredible, never ending heat. How similar the conditions seemed to the fires of damnation described in the bible. He did not try to leave, there was no where to run. A particle that consumed all it touched would continue until there was nothing left to consume.

Cardinal Bernosa sat and watched waiting for the inevitable. He came here hoping to witness the beginning, he had never imagined it would be the beginning of the end.

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