The awesome limits of superconductors

On June 24, a press release from CERN said that scientists and engineers working on upgrading the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had “built and operated … the most powerful electrical transmission line … to date”. The transmission line consisted of four cables – two capable of transporting 20 kA of current and two, 7 kA. …

My heart of physics

Every July 4, I have occasion to remember two things: the discovery of the Higgs boson, and my first published byline for an article about the discovery of the Higgs boson. I have no trouble believing it’s been eight years since we discovered this particle, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its ATLAS and …

Where is the coolest lab in the universe?

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) performs an impressive feat every time it accelerates billions of protons to nearly the speed of light – and not in terms of the energy alone. For example, you release more energy when you clap your palms together once than the energy imparted to a proton accelerated by the LHC. …

Peter Higgs, self-promoter

I was randomly rewatching The Big Bang Theory on Netflix today when I spotted this gem: Okay, maybe less a gem and more a shiny stone, but still. The screenshot, taken from the third episode of the sixth season, shows Sheldon Cooper mansplaining to Penny the work of Peter Higgs, whose name is most famously …

The not-so-obvious obvious

If your job requires you to pore through a dozen or two scientific papers every month – as mine does – you’ll start to notice a few every now and then couching a somewhat well-known fact in study-speak. I don’t mean scientific-speak, largely because there’s nothing wrong about trying to understand natural phenomena in the …

Science v. tech, à la Cixin Liu

A fascinating observation by Cixin Liu in an interview in Public Books, to John Plotz and translated by Pu Wang (numbers added): … technology precedes science. (1) Way before the rise of modern science, there were so many technologies, so many technological innovations. But today technology is deeply embedded in the development of science. Basically, …

The symmetry incarnations

This post was originally published on October 6, 2012. I recently rediscovered it and decided to republish it with a few updates. Geometric symmetry in nature is often a sign of unperturbedness, as if nothing has interfered with a natural process and that its effects at each step are simply scaled-up or scaled-down versions of …

Exploring what it means to be big

Reading a Nature report titled ‘Step aside CERN: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics’ (January 10, 2018) brought to mind something G. Rajasekaran, former head of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, told me once: that the future – as the Nature report also touts – belongs to tabletop particle accelerators. Rajaji (as …

All the science in 'The Cloverfield Paradox'

I watched The Cloverfield Paradox last night, the horror film that Paramount pictures had dumped with Netflix and which was then released by Netflix on February 4. It’s a dumb production: unlike H.R. Giger’s existential, visceral horrors that I so admire, The Cloverfield Paradox is all about things going bump in the dark. But what …

Chromodynamics: Gluons are just gonzo

One of the more fascinating bits of high-energy physics is the branch of physics called quantum chromodynamics (QCD). Don’t let the big name throw you off: it deals with a bunch of elementary particles that have a property called colour charge. And one of these particles creates a mess of this branch of physics because of its …