Mon Feb 25th, 2008 at 07:48:13 PM EST
The LHC, the Large Hadron Collider is the next project of collider particle physics which will be switched on. The multi billion Euro machine has already helped practical purposes in various ways, e.g. due to the development of huge superconducting magnets, the efforts to create a computing grid, and the research on silicon pixel detectors among many other things. The analysis will help young physicists to learn statistics in a well suited environment. The CERN, the laboratory where the LHC is build, has a unique history anyhow. In the cold war meetings on neutral ground took place and politically hunted physicists could be freed when getting publicity through their former work at CERN. The most important issue CERN does, however, is proving the superiority the European model as reliable partner in scientific international projects.
But can the physics there do anything useful?
Going back to my origins... - Diary rescue by Migeru
My answer is a very careful yes.
Research in formally uninvestigated energy regimes is always bound to some uncertainty of what can be found. So may be something useful we simply have not yet thought about.
But one application one can think of, is actually very old. If one would have a heavy negatively charged enough long living particle with quantum numbers differently of the proton, one could use this particle as a catalyst for fusion.
The main difficulty in fusion is the high energy needed to come over the potential wall from the Coulomb repulsion of two positively charged nulei. On a larger scale this repulsion is shielded by the electrons, but the distance between the average electron orbit and the nucleus is still very large for nuclear physics. A heavier particle would be closer to the nucleus and longer protect from the Coulomb repulsion.
One can think of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which forbids a particle to have at the same time a definit momentum and space. Heavier particles have the same momentum with a much lower velocity, so in a classical picture the heavy particle can have a much smaller orbit (space fuzzyness) with a given momentum.
The particle which could do the job best from the known particles is the muon, which is the 200 times heavier relative of the electron. Some have thought about using it, but it is still science fiction (however not pure fantasy). The main difficulty is, that it lives only about 2 microseconds.
Some theories in circulation today contain a particle which could be better suited. It would be even much more heavy (~200 000 times the electron mass) and could have lifetimes even on the level of seconds (not longer than 10 seconds or so, because we would see effects in cosmology from the early universe).
If such a particle woud be found practical use could be achieved one day.