Science

Let The Child Create! And What You Need to Know About Particle Accelerators Of Course!

February 1, 2018

A couple of weeks ago my oldest son wrote a letter to CERN and we headed off to our local post office to mail it.

CERN Letter - Particle AcceleratorCERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, or the ‘Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire’ (as its acronym represents), is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.  They provide particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research.

I did not know much, if anything, about particle accelerators (or CERN for that matter), until my son brought it up.  He is a voracious reader.

He wrote a letter to CERN because he is trying to improve upon their particle accelerator.  He even illustrated detailed drawings of how the improved-upon machine would work, which I shared with CERN on Instagram.

Particle AcceleratorPhysicists and engineers at CERN are “proving the fundamental structure of the universe.”  They collide particles at close to the speed of light, so that they might see how particles interact and gain insight into the fundamental laws of nature.

My son wants to go there and help them out.

This week, he is writing a letter to Stephen Hawking and also plans to touch base with NASA regarding some of his thoughts about the Big Bang theory.  Hawking is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University Cambridge.  He has also defied the odds and lived with ALS for half of a century.

This is a snapshot of how things looked on the table as my oldest was working through his thoughts and theories, and what he wanted to ask Mr. Hawking.

Big Bang Thoughts - Particle AcceleratorFrom the moment he learned to read, my oldest has devoured books.  He loves books that share facts and theories about the world and has taught me quite a bit.  It is a lot to keep up with!  He is one of the main reasons I started Mama Brains!

He has opened my mind to many things and has enforced my genuine belief that complex problems in the universe can be solved within the mind of a child.  Children are uninhibited by the rules of the world and unbroken by reality, thus they think freely about all possibilities – not just those that ‘fit in the box’ and comply with the rules.  I shared my thoughts on the matter last year (read here).

And recently, NASA scientists shared their opinion about the loss of children’s creativity as they age.  You can read about their research here.  It is very interesting!

Slowly, but surely, the world tears apart ideas from children and gradually all that is left are smoldering ashes.  I will admit that it is not easy to nourish and grow ideas.  Take that from a mama who suffered serious burns from a glue gun as she tried to produce a model of the train track that my son wanted to go over and under the house!  He was five at the time.

You do have to rein in the ideas at some point (if not simply, due to the blisters)!  But, giving a lot of encouragement to think freely about matters of the world certainly cannot hurt!

I hope that someone at CERN will write him back and I hope that Mr. Hawking will as well.  My sweet fellow sincerely believes CERN will invite him to their facility to help with their work….just like he believes that Stephen Hawking will call him on the phone to discuss his questions about the universe and singularity.

I hope he is right, but we shall see!

XO,
Melissa

What is a Particle Accelerator

A particle accelerator is a machine that accelerates particles (like electrons or protons) to very high energies.  The beams of particles are intentionally collided with each other or with stationary targets.  The results of the collisions are then observed and recorded by detectors.

Accelerators can be linear or circular.  Linear accelerators are used for stationary target experiments, whereas circular accelerators can be used for colliding beams of particles with each other and also experiments with fixed-targets.  CERN’s Hadron accelerator is 27 kilometers long and is circular.  They also have linear accelerators.

A particle accelerator uses electric and magnetic fields to speed up and steer the particles respectively.  The beam of particles travel inside a vacuum within the pipe.  Electric fields around the accelerator switch from positive to negative which creates radio waves that accelerate the particles in bunches.  Special detectors then record and show the particles and radiation that are produced by the collision between particles or with a fixed-target.

Accelerators have contributed to science in many ways.  They are at the core of research for sciences that use x-rays and subatomic particles.  With them, physicists have achieved further understanding of the particles and laws that govern matter, energy, space and time.  In the consumer world, particle accelerators have helped in the manufacturing of computer chips, altering plastics for surface treatments and medical sterilization.  They also have helped in hardening surfaces of materials like those used in artificial joints.

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