Entry 186: What’s the Matter?

Just in time for the gift-giving season, scientists have discovered a new type of matter.

Previously, it was thought that there were only three types of matter: regular, everyday family mattersmatter; its arch-enemy anti-matter; and Family Matters, the delightful 1990’s sitcom starring Jaleel White.

The discovery of the new type of matter was made with the help of the Large Hadron Collider, described in the Huffington Post article as “a giant loop where particles race around underneath Switzerland and France.” This makes it sound like NASCAR, which it most certainly is not, because the particles do not have any corporate logos.

The Large Hadron Collider is, of course, a 17-mile-long atom-smasher, and is much more famous than the Medium Hadron Collider, which is a ride at the Kim Jong Land Marginally Amusing Park in North Korea, and the Small Hadron Collider, which is actually 87-year-old Mrs. Blanche Hadron of Omaha, who owns a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria and an abysmal driving record.

lhc-tunnel[2]Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are trying to recreate the type of conditions in which the universe was created, without causing the type of conditions in which the universe will end. So far, they have not created any black holes or any big bangs, although some guy from Geneva let loose with a really large fart after eating some bad herring.

Seriously, there have been quite a few major discoveries made with the LHC, none of which I can come close to comprehending. But this new breakthrough is a real doozy. You see, what they’re doing with the LHC is speeding up protons and ions and crashing them into each other, resulting in explosions that liquefy those particles and give rise to new particles, most of which fly off in all directions at close to the speed of light.

But recently, some really sharp-eyed scientists noticed that pairs of particles were flying off in the same direction. This is how MIT physicist Hunther Roland explained it:

“Somehow they fly at the same direction even though it’s not clear how they can communicate their direction with one another.”

Well, I can solve the communication question: the particles are obviously not using AT&T.

Anyway, to make a nerd story short, the fact that these particles ran off together somehow indicates that there is a new form of matter, which they’re calling “color-glass condensate” because, well, I have no idea. This matter is…

“…a liquidlike wave of gluons, which are elementary particles related to the strong force that sticks quarks together inside protons and neutrons (hence they are like glue).”

You probably think I made up the last part, but I didn’t. Gluons are actually called gluons because they glue quarks together. I guess it’s fortunate that they haven’t discovered any particles that make things hard.

Back to the article:

“The mechanism may depend on a weird quirk of particles called quantum entanglement. Two particles can be entangled so that they retain a connection even after they are separated, and an action on one reverberates on the other.”

So let me get this straight. Gadzillions of dollars have been spent to build this collider thing in order to discover that subatomic particles can sometimes act like a divorced couple with children. (Also, are they really talking about quirky quarks?)

Let’s go now to a couple of more quotes from the MIT guy:

“You don’t expect quark-gluon plasma effects with lead-proton collisions.”

“That has surprised many people, including us.”

Well, I know I certainly didn’t expect quark-gluon plasma effects with lead-proton collisions. But, unlike the scientists at the LHC, I’m not surprised that it happened. Stuff like that is always happening, which is why I’m really uncomfortable with the “let’s bang some particles together and see what happens” school of scientific research.

I mean, I’m afraid of what will happen if I take a switch plate off the wall and expose some wiring, and these guys are happily smashing particles together and being surprised at the result! I don’t know about you, but when my scientists are holding an atomic demolition derby, I’d like them to have a pretty good idea of the outcome.

Sure, in this case they just created that condensed colored glass matter stuff, but what if, next time, they create an alternative universe in which teenaged girls rule the world and “Call Me Maybe” is the national anthem?


See you soon.

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One Response to Entry 186: What’s the Matter?

  1. Vinny Bond says:

    You had to go with that last thought, didn’t you…my day is now ruined…

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