A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

The Straight Dope on the "God Particle"

03/16/09

When does a physics experiment become cool? Honestly, almost never. But the LHC has defied expectation. It's popped up on a number of major news outlets, both print and video, but perhaps more surprisingly, it has also appeared in entertainment venues like The Daily Show, The Hills, and YouTube (thanks to the fantastic LHC rap).

Even as the LHC cools down for the winter, the momentum of public interest hasn't stopped. The experiment was the subject of a recent edition of The Straight Dope, a popular syndicated newspaper column in the Chicago Reader, with a loyal following online, in about thirty newspapers nationwide, and through six books. The Straight Dope, which is subtitled "Fighting Ignorance Since 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought)", answers weekly reader questions that are often about topics where a mishmash of information is thrown around in the public arena, or for which wikipedia does not have a straight answer. Many of the columns are essentially scientific, but brutally non-technical such as, "Could I survive on nothing but potatoes and milk?" or "Is anybody in charge of keeping satellites from colliding?" The column's author Cecil Adams (aka Uncle Cecil) keeps the attention of his readers by cutting out any jargon and just giving them...the straight dope.

The question on March 6 was simply, "What is the God Particle?" The column did provide a very simple, non-scientific answer, which is sometimes difficult to find among the hoards of information about the LHC and its particle pursuits. Adams uses a great analogy for the Higgs particle involving political groupies clustering around Barack Obama.

The article did mention the lawsuits submitted by persons who feared that the LHC would create a black hole and swallow the earth. While the author did not support the claims, he also did not dispute them, nor mention that every physicist who is knowledgeable in the subject denies that such a thing could happen. But, it seems the LHC is only as popular as the disasters it will never create.

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