So says my oldest nonchalantly as he go in the car yesterday. He was, of course, referring to the Large Hadron Collider that just conducted its first successful test, firing a stream of particles under the Alps. Although he was somewhat cavalier (he's 16; he's always cavalier), he, like many of his peers and a heck of a lot more adults, had some genuine concern over the apocalyptic chatter surrounding the LHC.
Partly this is my fault. I didn't make the LHC dinner conversation as I should have. However, the extraordinary concern over the LHC points to the real inadequacies of science education, as well as our seeming inability to teach people to sort out the wheat from the chaff in the stream of information they encounter.
The new collider is the world's biggest science experiment, created purely to give us a better understanding of our universe. While some practical application may trickle out of it sometime, it's really science for the sake of science. While it's true that the $10 billion probably could have been used elsewhere for humanitarian pursuits, as Stephen Hawking pointed out,
Asked to choose between it and the space program, he said: "That is like asking which of my children I would choose to sacrifice.
"Both the LHC and the Space program are vital if the human race is not to stultify and eventually die out. Together they cost less than one tenth of a per cent of world GDP. If the human race can not afford this, then it doesn't deserve the epithet 'human'."
This sort of pure science was almost blocked by a scared, vocal minority convinced that turning on the LHC would spell doom for the earth. Yet some simple research and background in fairly basic science should have been enough to allay the fears generated by the LHC project. Again, Stephen Hawking:
"Collisions releasing greater energy occur millions of times a day in the earth's atmosphere and nothing terrible happens. The world will not come to an end when the LHC turns on."
Not that we should all subscribe to the gospel according to Stephen Hawking, but I do wish that my kids were being inundated with enough science in school to immediately dismiss the fearmongering over the LHC. All of our kids can have their MySpaces "pimped out" in 10 minutes, but far too few make the LHC conversation at the dinner table. We'll be discussing it this evening, in between drama rehearsal and a PTA meeting. Science, math, and the computer technology our kids use every day go hand in hand; the collider is an important reminder for all of us.
Long live the LHC!