MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/5 July) – Many of us probably read for the first time about Cern (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons.” In the novel which serves as the prequel to the controversial “Da Vinci Code “, the assassin hired by the Papal camerlengo stole from Cern the anti-matter, which, as the name suggests, should not come in contact with any matter.
The research center is again on the spotlight, this time because of a development which promises to be a milestone in particle physics. Hundreds of Cern scientists announced the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson, a unit of matter named after Prof. Peter Higgs, who led the 45-year hunt.
Believed to be the link to explaining how matter attains its mass, Higgs boson, or what looks like one, may lead to a fuller understanding of the Universe and its origins. It is said that all the matter we can see at present comprises only four percent of the cosmos, the rest being dark matter and dark energy.
As reported by BBC this morning (local time), scientists are excited in that the discovery may lead to “something more exotic” other than a better understanding of the Universe. They clarified though that work is needed to make sure that it is really Higgs. They said they have to compare its behavior with that of the Higgs particle predicted by the Standard Model, so far the best theory to explain how the Universe works.
The Standard Model contains the elementary particles – quarks, leptons and “force carriers” – needed to make up the Universe as we see it. But scientists observed that nothing requires these particles to have mass, hence the need to plug the hole with the Higgs.
Prof. Stephen Hawking called the discovery an important result and one that should earn Prof. Higgs the Nobel Prize. Prof. Hawking, by the way, was the one who posited that God could not have possibly made the Universe, a declaration he made after presenting a methodical explanation on the nature of time and how it interacts with space.
Of course, there will be skeptics who would question the practical value of such discovery. They would say that the money spent on it was better spent on the world’s immediate needs.
However, the skeptics, presumably including the religious bigots who consider the discovery a threat to their own idea of how life began, are expecting too much if they demand immediate application of the discovery. Looking back, many scientists who made landmark discoveries had no idea about the usefulness of their achievements.
Did Michael Faraday know how humankind could benefit from electromagnetism? Did Einstein fully know the implications when he turned the world of physics upside down with [his] Theory of Relativity?
For now, no one knows the future usefulness of Higgs’ feat. Nonetheless, this should not be a reason to diminish the potential it holds for the future of the human species.
But amid the celebrations going on in the world’s scientific circles, where are the Filipinos? Sadly, the significant event happening at Cern hardly created a ripple even in the Philippine media. Newspapers buried the item in the inside pages. Television channels have remained preoccupied with talk shows dealing with recycled topics. Who can teach us that our energy was better spent on things other than whetting our appetite for gossip and other trashy fare?
Or is the local media afraid of getting the ire of people who still believe that the sun revolves around the Earth? These people would also argue against evolution. But wasn’t it a monk named Gregor Mendel who gave the world its first lessons on genetics? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)