Rocket Science
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The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
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 by Laramie Boyd
2015 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
        Sometimes, in the scientific world, things are discovered accidentally and unexpectedly, by stumbling over them. Other times, according to Brian Greene, of Science magazine, regarding seemingly bizarre situations, "before something can be discovered, it first has to be imagined." In other words, have an idea that something exists, search for it, and someday you might find it.
        Peter Higgs had such an idea, and he found it. His idea was that he felt the contents of the air around us had an influence on everything we observe, and that all of space is uniformly filled with some substance that slows down things moving through it, and changes our perspective of them. To illustrate what he means, a ping pong ball, immersed in water, and pushed, will seem more massive than it really is, and will move slower than when the same force is applied to it out of water. The water environment influences the observing of pushing the ping pong ball and how it reacts to the push. Higgs felt that way about the space around us, believing that something in that space affected our perspective of everything any of our senses were aware of. Higgs wanted to find out what that something was, and what it's characteristics were. Things pass through that something: light, electricity, sound, and all sorts of beams and rays. therefore there can't be "nothing" in the space surrounding everything. Something has to support the weight of the things passing through the space. Higgs wanted to find out what it was.
        To look for this invisible "pea soup", as it were, a 17 mile-long circular tunnel was constructed, costing some $10 billion. Inside the tunnel, subatomic particles called protons speed along, coming from opposite directions, at nearly 180,000 miles per second. These particles pass through the 17 miles 11,000 times in just one second. To help maintain these speeds, 9000 magnets are wrapped around the tunnel to help keep the particles moving along. Needless to say, these particles smash into each other. The collisions of the particles, and the resulting "sparks," were shown to emit what was determined to be a little piece of the substance Higgs was looking for. The little piece was named a Higgs boson, and the something in space that affected our perspective of the things passing through it, was dubbed the Higgs field. Peter Higgs feels his dream has come true.
        Could this boson be made of an impenetrable substance, one that can not be broken down into smaller parts, as atoms were once thought of, or will it lead to yet other unseen particles, and possibly a new form of matter? Scientists project that the Higgs field discovery might result in revealing a spatial dimension besides the length, width, and depth that we are all familiar with. The potential theories that will no doubt evolve from Higgs' discovery will be monumental, if they are substantiated.
        The coldest spot in the universe is not in outer space, as we might imagine, but in Burnaby, a small town east of Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. And it's in a secured black box just 10 ft. tall. The cylindrical cooling apparatus inside that box maintains a temperature of minus 459.6 degrees. Everything in the universe is moving, relative to everything else, but at that temperature almost all movement affected by it stops. In addition to the black box, a computer firm in Burnaby, called D-Wave, makes the D-Wave Two, a computer that has the potential of solving problems that would take conventional computers centuries. The cost is $10 million each, and they are called quantum computers. The company is backed by Amazon, Google, and an investment arm of the CIA. Purchasers of the D-Wave II include Lockheed Aircraft, NASA, and a buyer D-Wave will not identify. IBM and Microsoft also have their own groups exploring the possibilities of quantum computers.
        Quantum computers are based on the findings of quantum physicists, who describe the behavior of photons, which are light waves, and electrons, which are particles contained inside the atom, called subatomic particles. Computers use these particles to do their computing. Quantum physicists have conducted experiments where these subatomic particles can be shown to have the capacity to be in more than one place at the same time and doing more that one thing at the same time in these places. (That's what they say. How can this be? No one knows.) The quantum computer makes use of this capacity by allowing the working parts of the computer to solve more than one problem at a time in more than one place at a time. Thus they are very, yes very fast. The computers have to be isolated in an environment where there is no vibration, no electromagnetism and no heat. Currently, the construction and working with the computers is in the beginning stages. In fact, some feel there is not enough skill or knowledge yet to know completely what problems the computers will someday be able to solve. Some scientists working on the project aren't even sure how it will be used and see the computers as solutions looking for the right problems, as they are so filled with high expectations, but not so much needed understanding yet. If this project is successful, today's computers will seem like store clerks working with an abacus, trying to find the total bill for a shopper. Maybe a quantum computer will someday help Peter Higgs investigate the Higgs field, saving a lot of time and calculations in that effort.