Cern and Religion Articles

The CERN

by William Edgar, Ph.D. , Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary

The acronym stands for Conseil Européen de Recherche Nucléaire [European Council for Nuclear Research]. A provisional group was founded in 1952. It morphed into the European Organization for Nuclear Research in 1954, but kept the original name, which reflects the conviction at the time that the atom's nucleus contained all the clues needed for understanding matter. Today, of course, physics looks into all kinds of particles and energy forces in the hopes of unlocking the secrets of the universe.

Several factors make this structure unique. First, it is a huge construction project. It took years and billions of dollars to build. Its history is full of interest. For example, the world-wide web was invented there, by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990. For details of this or other landmarks, see [http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/about/history-en.html]. Second, it is truly inter-European, and thus carries great symbolic value for European unity. The council consists of 44 people, two from each member state, one a politician and the other a scientist. The Director General is appointed to a five-year term. Third, there are thousands of researchers involved: 2,600 full-time employees, as well as some 7,931 scientists and engineers from 580 universities and research facilities, from at least and 80 nationalities. For the year 2008 alone about $1 billion were contributed by the members.

Fourth, the center serves many technological and scientific purposes. Perhaps of greatest interest is its operation of six accelerators and decelerators. The longest-awaited feature is the LHC, Large Hadron Collider. It is the world's largest particle accelerator, who purpose is to smash together opposing particle beams of electrically charged particles. These may be protons, which will collide at an energy of 7 TeV/particles. Or they may be lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV/nucleus. TeV is a symbol for Tera electron Volts (tera is 1000 times giga, or a huge amount of energy). This acceleration is made possible by a tunnel of 17 miles (27 kilometers) around, built 570 feet (175 meters) beneath the surface, between the French and Swiss border, near Geneva. Although on September 10, 2008, the proton beams were successfully sent around the main ring of the LHC, operations were halted because of a miscalculation in the construction of a magnet which led to a serious accident in the accelerator. They plan to reopen in September of 2009 after repairs.

The CERN in general, and the LCH in particular, have generated a great deal of response in popular media, YouTube, novels and TV series. Much of it is misinformed and distorted. BBC's Radio 4 commemorated the switch-on test of the LHC September 10, 2008, as "Big Bang Day." On that day a radio episode from the British sci-fi TV series Torchwood included the story of a plot to uncover the real purpose of CERN's experiments, the discovery of the "Higgs Particle," believed to be the fundamental building block of all existence. Known as "The God Particle," the Higgs Particle is a boson, named after two scientists, Bose and Einstein. Though they have not yet been detected, scientists hope that observing the Higgs boson could help understand mass-less particles which nevertheless seem to have mass.

In Angels and Demons the plot centers around the theft of antimatter from the LHC to be used as a powerful weapon to destroy the Vatican. (Antimatter is a particle with an opposite charge, for example, a positron is an electron with a positive charge, and an antiproton is a proton with a negative charge.) the popular belief is that mixing matter with antimatter would convert 100% of mass into energy, thus creating an incredibly powerful weapon. Antimatter has been created artificially, but it is not found in nature, outside of fiction. Military research into antimatter has been shrouded in secrecy as reports affirm.1 For more details, check-out a number of sources, including website, such as CERN's own "fact or fiction" site, meant to interact with the novel.2

1[http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/10/04/MNGM393GPK1.DTL].
2[http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/Spotlight/SpotlightAandD-en.html].



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