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LHC: the catalog shot

The Jameco Electronics May 2010 catalog cover featuring the LHC's ATLAS experiment.

The Jameco Electronics May 2010 catalog cover featuring the LHC's ATLAS experiment.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a geek. I haven't done research physics since I became a journalist but the geekiness remains, often in the form of building electronic stuff. I like to make embedded microprocessor objects that react to the environments and behaviors around them, and so I need to get my hands on all kinds of electronic bits and pieces.

My geek confession for today: I love the day the Jameco Electronics catalog arrives in the mail. But to make it even geekier, I was excited to see that the latest cover features a photograph of the construction of the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider. It's a photo many symmetry readers will have seen before.

What I really like about the LHC pic on the catalog cover is that it reminds us that behind those many kilometers of accelerator, behind the many floors of detector, are electronic components that might be smaller than you can easily handle or larger than you. And behind those electronic components are the research discoveries that allowed electronics to be invented. And behind those research discoveries are the fundamental laws of electromagnetism, a unification of the previously separate observations of electricity and of magnetism, and the discovery of how the photon is part of that world.

So we go full circle: from the unification of laws based on observation, we create technology. Some of this technology revolutionized society, while other parts fed back into the research enterprise. As that research enterprise has evolved, we now stand at a point where we are attempting to understand an even larger-scale unification of the laws of the universe, through the discoveries anticipated at the LHC.

With that path of progress, what can we say about the next round? Maxwell couldn't have anticipated the world of electronic gadgetry, and physicists now can't predict what will come from the discoveries at the LHC. We can, however, be confident that there will be world-changing developments somewhere down the road.