Monday, April 29, 2013

Mesons, Antimatter, and Why Things Exist

I enjoy reading about recent developments in science even when I find the specific concepts hard to understand. Particle physics is one of those areas in which my math is not up to reading the original publications so I read the summaries of recent discoveries on websites that give a simple explanation. Reading such articles causes me to reflect upon the philosophical, cosmological, and theological implications of scientific realities. The following headline caught my attention: "LHC detects asymmetry in particle's decay: While interesting, strange B meson's preference for matter over antimatter isn't enough to explain universe's existence." The LHC or Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world and has allowed scientists to perform experiments that were previously impossible to carry out. Physicists accelerate and collide protons in a large ring 27 km in circumference. When the particles smash into each other they use detectors to observe the resulting debris. It is like every young child's dream of speeding things toward each other and watching the crash.

The basic concept in this article is that when certain sub-atomic particles are briefly created and then decay into other particles, some of these particles (the B Mesons) can oscillate back and forth between matter and anti-matter. Thus, they offer insight into the door between the worlds of matter and anti-matter. Although the degree of preference is still controversial, the latest results from the LHC suggest that these particles show a preference for decaying into matter rather than anti-matter. However, this asymmetry of particles is still not enough to explain why we live in a universe in which matter is dominant over anti-matter. It also does not explain why all matter and anti-matter did not collide long ago and annihilate everything that could come into existence.

In a universe in which stars, planets, black-holes, trees, dandelions, muskrats, and meerkats are made up of matter, one must still ask, "Where did all this matter come from?" Although these results from the LHC can fill us with wonder and awe regarding the world in which we live, they still do not answer the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Suggested Reading:
"News in Brief: LHC detects asymmetry in particle's decay."
R. Cowen. Matter beats out antimatter in experimental echo of creation. Science News. Vol. 177, June 19, 2010, p. 8.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baryogenesis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baryon

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