2 Comments »Posted on Monday 8 September 2008 at 6:03 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Physics

It seems the media pendulum is swinging back in favour of the Large Hadron Collider, with both the Times and the Sun reporting the particle accelerator could lead to “improved cancer treatments, systems for destroying nuclear waste and insights into climate change.”

The claims, presumably put out by CERN as damage control, are pretty impressive. Apparently cancer cells could be destroyed using particle beams containing “protons, carbon ions and even antimatter.” Antimatter can be produced by the proton synchrotron, part of the system which accelerates beams before injecting them into the LHC, but I’m not really sure how that helps kill cancer. The LHC isn’t the first machine to create antimatter, so what is being done here that is new?

CERN will also use the proton synchrotron in a new laboratory investigating the interactions of cosmic rays and clouds. If cosmic rays fired into a “cloud chamber” form clouds, it could have “interesting implications.” Very promising, I’m sure.

I don’t really want to bash the guys at CERN, but come on. The similar wording in both articles indicates cribbing from a press release (although I can’t find one on CERN’s site) providing journalists with some tenuous links to hot issues in science, as away of getting some positive press for the LHC.

I’d rather see a spin on the actual science taking place at CERN, rather than some “maybes” around the periphery. Yeah, the discovery of the Higgs boson might not immediatly lead to some wonderful technological revolution, but that’s not what science is about. Imagine if Newton had publicised his explanation of gravity as “Great News For Farmers – A New Method Of Collecting Apples Is On The Way!” He had no way of knowing that his calculations would eventually be used to put men on the moon – that’s just not how science works.

CERN should be celebrating their efforts of discovery, not pandering to a fickle media – although if the LHC can make my whites “whiter than white”, I’m all for it.


  1. 2 Comments

  2. hi
    I never comment but feel i have to. the cancer claim is, as you say, a bit far fetched – but using the proton synchrotron in a cloud chamber did not deserve your sarcastic response. the way cosmic rays affect cloud cover can account for up to 60% of the recent (200years) tempreture rise of earth. this is a very important experiment, and will have “interesting implications” considering how much everyone goes on about climate change

    By Sam on Wednesday 10 September, 2008 at 10:45 am

  3. You’re right, I was a little too sarcastic. I’m just annoyed that CERN is reaching for these experiments that don’t even relate to the LHC as a way to justify it – when finding the Higgs should be “enough”, as it were.

    By Jacob Aron on Wednesday 10 September, 2008 at 10:56 am

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