Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Favourite Phrases

Graphic interpretation of the test that resulted in the first
Higgs Boson detection at CERN LHC.

"I hate being right."

A day or two ago, CERN announced that further tests and analysis confirmed that their observation of a Higgs Boson several months previously was, in fact, the Higgs Boson, behaving in the way it was supposed to.

Secretly, scientists are always a little disappointed to be right - it's exciting enough to know that Higgs Bosons actually exist, since the math doesn't work without them existing, but it would have been much more exciting if it did something wierd in the process.

"Wierd" is one of the best possible reactions your brain can have to an observation, because it means that pursuing it will almost always mean learning something new about the world in which you live - knowledge being its own reward, of course.

Core structure of Penicillin

"Because I can."

The X-Ray was pretty good; so was penicillin. Neither were discovered with a practical objective in mind.

Science is a machine for discovery. There is rarely a practical reason, in this day and age, to ask "why". Some of our most important discoveries, from the tectonic to the prosaic, came by accident.

Penicillin is a favourite of mine - in spite of wide-spread allergies to the damn stuff, and the (predictably!) rising resistance of biotics to traditional antibiotics, Penicillin pretty much curbed the spread of a number of common diseases at the time. But it wasn't the only one. Radar technicians came up with the idea for the microwave oven - ivory soap was a result of over-mixing, post-its were a failed attempt at adhesive design by 3M. X-Rays, in particular, were recovered completely accidentally but are now one of the most commonly-used diagnostic tools in medicine. 

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