Monday, July 30, 2012

The God Particle

ATLAS Experiment 2012 CERN

What happens when we cut matter into smaller and smaller pieces? The ancient Greeks asked this question and came up with the word ‘atomos’, which means ‘uncuttable’  as a description of the smallest unit. Not being experimentalists, the Greeks had no way of verifying what the smallest unit of matter was.

Some 2,000 years later, thanks to huge advances in experimental physics, we now know that the atom is not indivisible. Using electron microscopes that can actually photograph single atoms, and by building bubble chambers and powerful accelerators, scientists were able to ‘split open’ the atom and find a zoo of smaller particles that make up matter. They found 12 elementary particles, which seem to occur in families of three: 6 quarks and 6 leptons.

Looking at a single atom, each is composed of electrons, protons and neutrons (except hydrogen that has 1 electron and 1 proton). Every proton and neutron is made up of even smaller particles called quarks which exist in groups of three. In addition, there are two other elementary particles: the first is the electron (3 types) and the second is neutrinos (3 types) called leptons, which in Greek means 'small'. These particles have no further structure that we know of and are called elementary particles. They are the very ‘building blocks’ of all matter. In addition, there exists particles called bosons such as the photon that transmit forces among the elementary particles. For example, light is made up of photons, the better-known boson responsible for mediating the electromagnetic force. In this figure the 4 purple boxes represent 4 bosons that transmit forces.

And now we come to the Higgs boson, which stands out from all other bosons, because it does not transmit forces like the other three types of bosons. It transforms energy into matter, as in Einstein's equation, E=mcThe British physicist Peter Higgs, almost five decades ago, hypothesized that a boson should exist that would be responsible for giving mass to the particles created at the Big Bang. The existence of this boson was recently proven experimentally at CERN and was named after the scientist who predicted its existence – Higgs.

The photo at the top of this posting is a simulation of data collected following a collision of 2 protons. A Higgs boson is produced which decays into 2 jets of hadrons (heavy particles) and 2 electrons. The Higgs boson is responsible for holding everything together in the universe because by giving particles mass, they become subject to gravitational force. Otherwise, without mass, particles would simply fly apart. Scripture says, “He (God) is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) Perhaps that is why the Higgs boson is called the God Particle. It holds the universe together and without it, nothing material would exist.

To watch a simplified explanation of the Higgs boson see: Dr. Don Lincoln from Fermi Labs explains the Higgs boson

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Miracle of Water

Photo by Sergiu Baciolu; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic


Five Amazing Facts about Water
1.           It expands as it freezes as opposed to most substances that become denser as the temperature falls. This allows it to float rather than sink in liquid water. This quality is critical for liquid water to exist on our planet.
2.           It can store energy because of its high heat capacity, thus regulating our body temperature.
3.           It has a very high heat of evaporation (540 C/gram). This means that as water evaporates, it removes a large amount of heat, which helps keep our bodies cool as we sweat.
4.           It remains in liquid form, when other substances become gaseous.
5.           It is the only substance on earth that exists naturally in all three forms ((ice, liquid and vapor).

70% of our planet is covered with water and 90% of our bodies are composed of it.  Water has one of the simplest possible chemical formulas: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H-O-H). Yet it is one of the most anomalous substances known to us. On a practical level, we know water as an ordinary and abundant substance, essential for life, but scientifically it is complex and exhibits unusual behavior. In fact, it has over 40 unique properties that combined, make life possible on earth.  No wonder NASA is searching for water on other planets as a condition for speculating whether life can exist.

The components of water are two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, arranged in the manner of a triangle, with oxygen at the apex and the hydrogen bonds as its two legs, with 104.45 degree separation. This structure, with the additional property of oxygen being slightly positive and the hydrogen atoms being slightly negative, creates what scientist call hydrogen bonding. This very structure is responsible for water’s unusual properties. In fact, minute changes in this 104.45 degree angle, or changes in the charges, would make it impossible for liquid water to exist!  Water has been extensively studied by scientists, but still holds many puzzles.

It is no accident then that Christ used the metaphor of liquid water to explain a spiritual principle to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:14). Jesus said the water he gives us “…will become in [us] a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.  Just as physical water is essential for life, so spiritual ‘water’ gives life to our soul, as God’s Spirit quenches our thirst for something beyond ourselves, something eternal. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me…streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38).

for more information on water’s amazing qualities visit: US Geological Survey's - Water Education for Schools

Friday, July 6, 2012

Whispers from Heaven

Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI


In 1980 a huge radio telescope system was built in the remote deserts of central New Mexico. It is called the Very Large Array (VLA). The array consists of twenty seven dish antennas, each weighing 230 tons and 25 meters in diameter. The VLA was built to ‘listen’ to radio emissions from our solar system and beyond, to the edge of the known Universe, billions of light–years from the Earth. It has made key observations of black holes, proto-planetary disks around young stars, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters and provided new knowledge about physical mechanisms that produce radio emissions.

Few realize that the VLA has also been used to listen for possible radio signals from intelligent beings somewhere in the universe, who might be attempting to contact us. The project is named SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The film by Carl Sagan entitled ‘Contact’ where astrophysicists receive an unexpected series of signals that provide the first 100 prime numbers, was based on the SETI project. Information like this could only have been sent by intelligent beings. Alas, that story is still fiction, in spite of great hope that mankind might hear from extraterrestrials!

The exceedingly fine-tuned universe, the incredible odds for life to emerge from non-living matter and the unusually privileged position our earth has in space, make the odds of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe very low. Even if there were intelligences like ours, the millions of light years needed for signals to reach earth from sources in our galaxy alone, make it all but impossible for us to know who else is out there!

However, we know from Scripture that God created the heavens and the earth, made humans in His Image, and 2000 years ago he himself made a soft landing on planet earth, as recorded by eye-witnesses in the Gospels. If the Creator of the Universe visited planet earth and expressed His love and care for us, doesn’t it seem strange that we dismiss this ‘Intelligent Being’ so easily and instead, seek for 'intelligent life' beyond our solar system to contact us and tell us how to live a better life?

The VLA and its more recent, much improved Expanded VLA version, require careful listening by radio-astronomers to the weak signals from space. The array needs to be in a location with minimum radio interference from man–made radio noises. Both the VLA and humans need solitude and quiet to be able to hear 'from beyond'! We need to practice intentional listening in order to hear that ‘gentle whisper’ from God. While despondent and hiding in a cave, Elijah heard that comforting whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)  Are you also listening?

for more information about Radio Astronomy visit:  National Radio Astronomy Observatory