Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Higgs Boson: Why You Should Care About the God Particle. And, Sadly, Why You Don't

Ainissa Ramirez giving a TED Talk. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Ainissa Ramirez, a Yale University materials scientist, likes to call herself a science evangelist, and her passion and expertise at science education is unparalleled. So this week, with the announcement about the discovery of the Higgs Boson, was both exciting–because of an amazing opportunity–and frustrating–because she thought the science world largely blew it.

The Higgs Boson: Why You Should Care About the God Particle. And, Sadly, Why You Don't
By Ainissa Ramirez

Here’s what you need to know about the God Particle.

The Higgs boson (Higgs is a guy’s name, BTW, and a boson is a particle that’s smaller than an atom) is the biggest scientific discovery of the 21st Century. Period.

This discovery is up there with Copernicus. If we did not find the Higgs boson, everything that we understood about how the universe works would have been wrong. We would have had nice equations that describe things we observed in the world, but they would have been crap. That would have been $10 billion flushed down the toilet with the creation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and we would have gone back to the drawing board with our tail between our legs after fifty years of an aimless pursuit.

It was a big gamble, and we won. It is that big...

So what’s the problem?

One of the founders of the Higgs theory, Gerald Guralnik, was quoted in the New York Times saying he was glad to be at a physics meeting “where there is applause, like a football game.”

The problem is that it’s only physicists that are excited. A few thousand scientists (less than 1 percent of the population) are losing their minds, not taking any calls, getting buzzed in the middle of the day, and crying and hugging each other.

The rest of society is trying to figure out why this is a big whoop.

The biggest discovery of the 21st century, which connects you (and the world and the universe) to the Big Bang, was barely a whimper to over 99 percent of the population.

As Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, “ What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

I think the nerds got it wrong by not inviting everyone to the party. The biggest discovery of the 21st century may actually widen the gap between scientists and the general public...

I think we should do a better job at teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) using events such as this as a catalyst. Since science is right now part of the national conversation, let’s strike while the iron is hot and create ways to get more people excited about science...

CERN should have hired a PR firm to develop a website for the general public on the Higgs Boson. Maybe CERN should have hired a TV personality to be a spokesperson...

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