Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 22, 2012


Host: Ted Simons

Lawrence Krauss on Physics


  • Internationally-famous physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University will talk about physics, with topics ranging from the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle to the Mars “Curiosity” rover.
Guests:
  • Lawrence Krauss - Physicist, ASU
Category: Science   |   Keywords: Krauss, physics, rover, mars, science, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: What is the Higgs-Boson? Has it really been found and where was it hiding? For the answer to those and other current science questions I spoke earlier today with noted ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss. Always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Lawrence Krauss: Always great to be here.

Ted Simons: I want to talk about the Higgs-Boson, but the last time you were on, you took off, and a few days later the Higgs-Boson explodes. I want to get your thoughts on that because we got you back. Before all that since you have been gone, we landed on Mars. We got this curiosity mission. What are you, a theoretical physicist, looking for in a mission like this?

Lawrence Krauss: It's incredibly exciting. I was more excited I think when this thing landed. I was in Australia right in fact where the signals come in and are relayed from deep space network in Australia. I was as excited as I had been since the moon landing. It was neat to watch. The really exciting thing about this mission, in principle, is it will tell us if the conditions for life once existed on Mars. What I'm excited about is the possibility I expect we will discover evidence of at least past life on Mars, but the big surprise would be if it weren't our cousins. Because what we have discovered is no planet is an Island. Material from Mars comes to earth, gets knocked out by meteors, and makes its voyage to Earth. We find Martian meteorites in Antarctica. It goes the other direction. Microbes can exist inside rocks, so if there's life on one planet it could easily pollute the other. Since Mars probably was hotter and wetter in really early times, perhaps the life on Earth originated on Mars. So if you want to know what Martians look like, you just look in the mirror. [laughter] For me I would be very excited ultimately if there's evidence of life on Mars. The big surprise would be if it was an independent genesis. That would be amazing. There's lots of questions. If there was water on the surface. We really want to know the conditions. This is really the first mission that can tell us.

Ted Simons: what do we look for as far as daily reports and photographs and all this? The information is flooding in and apparently will flood in for quite a while. When do we say, hey, what's going on?

Lawrence Krauss: NASA is pretty good letting us know. It's going to be slow. In fact it could be -- it's going to be a month I think before the rover starts to move. I was told it might be up to a year before it cracks open the first rock. So there was a really exciting landing but it's ramping up slowly and we just have to be patient. You can go online and see the most amazing images. I was looking at this interactive three-dimensional cam where you can actually look all around the rover and focus on the rover itself. I love it.

Ted Simons: Some of the photographs look like the drive to San Diego.

Lawrence Krauss: in fact it looks like the southwest, doesn't it? Just like Arizona. I don't know if we should publicize that, that Mars looks like Arizona.

Ted Simons: we have had worse things said about us. Let's get to the Higgs-Boson. What is it and where has it been hiding?

Lawrence Krauss: It's been hiding all around us. It's in some sense if it's there and we think it is, the data is remarkable and it's compelling that something has been discovered and the something looks very much like a Higgs. We have to step back. To me it's the cap of the greatest intellectual journey in some sense that humans have ever undertaken. The development of a standard model of particle physics. 40 years ago we understood one of the four forces of nature. Now we understand three. The development of the mathematical theoretical model suggested that two of the four forces in nature which look very different, electromagnetism, responsible for the lights and the television, and the weak interactation, a weak force but energy powers the sun, they look very different. Incredibly different. Electro magnetism operates across the universe. They can be different manifestations of the same force. For that to be true in quantum mechanics the particle that conveys a force, all forces are conveyed by particles and electro magnetism is long range. Because the photon is massless. The particles that convey the weak force are very heavy. They were discovered about 25 years ago and won the Nobel Prize for that. How could two forces, one of which is conveyed by heavy particles, another by massless particles, be manifestations of the same thing. It was so slimey I never believed it was true. The idea was that there's a background invisible field throughout space called the Higgs field, and the W and Z particles interact. Basically all particles are massless. They interact with the Higgs field and get some resistance as they move. Therefore they act like they are very massive. The photon doesn't. It remains massless. Because of that accident, these two forces look very different. Then it didn't take long for physicists to realize if this field is responsible for the mass, maybe it's responsible for mass of all particles. Maybe some particles interact more strongly and behave lighter, some behave lighter. Some don't interact at all.

Ted Simons: How can the photon not interact at all? how can it get through this cosmic molasses?

Lawrence Krauss: The photon doesn't have any charge. The particles, the reason electrons interact with other electrons is they are charged particles, but the photon doesn't have any particles that would allow it to interact. It's saying our existence is an accident. It's a cosmic accident based on this is visible field. That's the subject of religion, maybe but not science. The neat thing quantum mechanics tells us is if you hit that field hard enough within the energy you'll kick out real particles. What we have been looking for 45 years is a machine with the energy to have enough energy focused in a small enough region to basically smack that field hard enough to kick out the real particles.

Ted Simons: are you saying the particle accelerator -- I thought particles collide together. Are you saying the field collided together?

Lawrence Krauss: Fields at a small level, fields and particles are very similar. You take two protons and smash them together with enough energy, you could turn the mass of those protons into enough energy to excite this background Higgs field and kick out real particles. That's the way we're producing we think these Higgs particles. The neat thing is it's a prediction. What made us so excited is the first machine in a generation or more that's had the energy to in principles create the particles that we predicted existed. I was betting they wouldn't exist. The explanation just seemed so pat, the idea there's invisible field throughout nature seemed too easy. I'm amazed. Of course in the United States 25 years ago we would have had another collider if Congress had been at the --

Ted Simons: Arizona was involved in that as well.

Lawrence Krauss: at the time they said it just cost too much money. It was $5 billion, which is the air conditioning in Iraq for one day.
Ted Simons: Back to the collider and what we saw there, did we see -- are we seeing new particles develop when these two particles collide in the accelerator?
Lawrence Krauss: Each of those collisions produces sometimes thousands of particles because so much energy turns into matter.

Ted Simons: does that suggestiest what happened at the big bang?
Lawrence Krauss: It takes us closer to the origin of the big bang. It takes us back to about a millionth of a millionth of a second after the big bang. That's really excited because we think one of the things we have talked about in the past is that this galaxy is dominated by the stuff called dark matter, which we think is a new type of elementary particle created in the very early universe and these particles are left over that dominate the universe today. The neat thing about the large head Ron collider is if it can recreate those conditions in a very small region it may create the particles that make up the dark matters. We may not have to build detectors to discover it directly. We may create them with the large Hadron collider. It's a race.

Ted Simons: The dark matter comes to light as it were.

Lawrence Krauss: exactly. We're very excited about that.

Ted Simons: last question. Got to get going here. We could talk for so long. It's amazing stuff. But it seems to me everyone got excited. We almost think we sort of maybe found it. Did they finds it or not?

Lawrence Krauss: We're very conservative. They have looked at billions and billions of collisions and seen 80 events. What's clear is we discovered a new particle. We discovered a new particle and that particle appears to have the properties of the Higgs-Boson but we're very conservative because this is such an important discovery to say you've discovered this particle that really is responsible for our existence to be wrong would be embarrassing. It quacks like a duck and walks like a duck but we're going to wait to see if it's a duck. We don't have to wait long because the large Hadron collider is currently taking data. It's going to have three times more data than before that discovery that will allow us to test the properties of the particle. By the ends of the year the large Hadron collider is turning off for two years for an upgrade. So stay tuned.

Ted Simons: we'll try to get you back to talk more about this and other things like your relationship with Woody Allen. You're palling around with Woody Allen now. we'll talk about that. Thanks for being here.

Lawrence Krauss: Always great to be here.

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