Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mystery of the Missing Baby Bulbuls – A New Pictorial Story

My discovery of a bird’s nest in my backyard and the subsequent developments were narrated in a pictorial story last month [See: http://drsnprasadmysoreindia.blogspot.in/2012/06/birds-nest-and-its-hapless-habitants.html].  After the quick and tragic end to the story, little did I anticipate that I would be reliving it over a much longer period, this time with a mysterious rather than a tragic ending.   Here is what happened, again supported by a faithful photographic documentation.

My daughter and grandson had joined me again for an extended summer holiday, and their curiosity had led them one day to peep inside the flower plant where they had made their earlier discovery.  This time they saw a brand new empty nest, a little deeper and higher inside than last time, ready for occupation.  It was early morning on 26 June.  When they showed it to me, I again reacted instinctively with camera in hand and shot my first picture of the nest.  We kept looking for further developments discretely every now and then.  Here is a picture of the empty nest I shot on 29 June, fully ready for occupation:

[Many of the pictures shown here are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]

It was delightfully unsurprising for us to discover a lone, beautifully mottled egg inside the nest the same afternoon.  Below is my first picture of it.  Not only was the egg by itself a splendid sight, equally so was the marvelously intricate structure of the nest itself that I had a chance to examine for the first time.

Not unexpectedly, we found a second egg beside the first one the very next morning.  Here they are, lying side by side in the dull early morning light.

When I saw the two beautiful eggs together I was strongly tempted to snatch one of them and preserve it as a memento in my showcase.  In the light of my earlier experience I must have rationalized that it would not be a horrendous loss to the avian community if I did so.  However, it didn’t take me more than a moment to exorcise this devil in me and let nature play out its own plot.

We had a feeling that our as yet unseen avian visitors were familiar with our household and could even be the same duo that had set up home in our premises earlier.  Our suspicions were confirmed by our first sighting of a red whiskered bulbul close to the nest as captured in the following picture:

Here is an ultra-zoom picture of the visitor taken soon after, perhaps contemplating its next move in a not too friendly mood:

For the next ten days in a row, we observed one of the parent birds sitting in the nest and incubating the two eggs, while the other bird kept watch and vigil nearby most of the time.  Unlike the previous occasion, none of their avian friends were ever in attendance.  Also, our backyard always exuded a serene atmosphere, with the birds strangely quiet most of the time.  Our knowledge of ornithology was far too elementary to identify the two birds by their respective gender, but this hardly mattered.  Here is one of scores of pictures I took of one of the parents snugly inside its nest warming up the eggs during this long incubation period:

It was on the evening of 10 July that we got a glimpse of one of the freshly hatched baby birds cutely embracing its unborn sibling still in its nest.  Here is this intensely tender picture:

Unfortunately we couldn’t get to see the hatching process itself, nor could we see any of the broken pieces of the eggshell after the baby had come out.  Presumably, one of the parent birds had deftly cleaned up the debris.  This whole thing was repeated the next day when the second egg was also hatched.  We would have dearly loved to steal a glimpse of how the baby was coming out, hopefully even being able to capture it on video, but this was not to be.  Such a video clip can however be viewed from a well-known source, the Internet Bird Collection, at: http://ibc.lynxeds.com/video/red-whiskered-bulbul-pycnonotus-jocosus/red-whiskered-bulbul-parent-feeding-cleaning-babies

Here is a picture of one of the parent birds apparently in the process of hatching the other egg even as it was taking care of the newborn one:

As could be expected, it was the very next day that the second egg also hatched and I was able to take the following picture with the two baby bulbuls with their ‘arms’ around each other:

The parent birds had intensified their vigil and rarely did we see one bird not watching nearby while the other one was crouched over the baby birds in the nest, not only protecting them but presumably also, feeding them.  Rarely did we get an inkling of how this was being done.  We desisted from observing our visitors too closely and too frequently or intrusively, fearing that we might disturb the natural processes where human interference is so alarmingly on the increase in our modern ‘civilized’ world.
Occasionally we observed both the parent birds next to each other on a cable overhead while the baby birds were left to themselves in the nest.  Here is a picture of one such situation:

Here is a picture of the two baby bulbuls when left alone, with one of them apparently hollering hoarsely for something, may be for mama bird, or for food or both, while its sibling appears to be blissfully asleep:

Early next morning I caught one of the birds overseeing the nest and its little sleepy habitants:

It was not until 24 hours later (on 13 July) that I got an opportunity to shoot a picture of one of the birds holding some food with its beak in readiness to feed the babies.  Seen in the following picture, the food appears to be a dead grasshopper.  This was the only time I could catch anything close to the actual feeding of the babies.  Of course it must have been happening frequently, without any luck for us.

The next picture shows the two baby birds lying next to each other with unmistakable signs of feathers.  In our earlier experience with the birds the little ones had fallen prey to a predator long before this stage had been reached.  This gave us some hope that they could survive such an eventuality this time.  My initial hopelessness had made way for some guarded optimism.

Though we were not lucky enough to observe the actual feeding process, we saw the parent birds frequently carrying something or other dangling from their beaks, obviously intended for the babies to eat.  Here is one such instance captured while a parent bird was perched on the overhead cable:

The next picture shows the babies in the nest, one of them in the act of crawling over the other, both in excellent shape.

Now comes the mystery side of my story.  The following is my last picture of the baby bulbuls huddled in their nest, with both parents standing guard somewhat as usual on the cable overhead.

I shot this picture just before I had my lunch on 14 July, just under five days after the first egg had hatched.  In retrospect, when I now reflect on this picture, the babies appeared to have such well-developed wings that I felt it would be a matter of just a few days before they would be on their own and be able to even leave the nest.  However, it was still a great surprise for me to discover an empty nest later in the afternoon that day.
My initial reaction was one of shock and sorrow just as on the previous occasion, but I realized very soon that the two situations were quite different.  Here I was staring (see picture below) at a nest that was in as good a condition as when we first noticed it and at any time thereafter, with no tell-tale signs of any intrusive activity.  In contrast, what I had seen on the last occasion was a nest that had been violently attacked and trampled upon, with its hapless habitants almost certainly killed and carried away.  Here I got the impression that the babies had been helped away to a safer place by the parents sometime that afternoon without any of us in the household noticing the act.

So, now I have a mystery behind the missing bulbuls.  Unlike last time, circumstantial evidence indicates that they survived and may have been helped to a safer location by the parents who were seen going about their daily business for the next 2-3 days as if nothing untoward had happened.  However, ornithology experts may have a different and a less optimistic explanation.  For my part, for sheer lack of understanding, I would like to trust my instincts for once and assume a happy ending to my story.  Sometimes ignorance can be bliss! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Exasperating God Particle – Missing piece in a cosmic jigsaw puzzle

Why the Name?

The massive media ‘higgsteria’ created last week by the announcement of the discovery of a new fundamental particle of nature, called the Higgs boson, would not have happened if the particle had not been described mischievously as the ‘God Particle’.  However much the scientific community may resent the tag that has now become part of popular scientific lore, it was paradoxically a famous physicist who had a role in it.  In 1993 Leon Lederman, 1988 Nobel laureate in physics and Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Lab (FNAL of Fermilab for short) near Chicago in USA wrote a humorous popular book on the still elusive Higgs boson and, when the question of a suitable title confronted him, wanted to call it the goddamn particle, reflecting the sheer frustration of the particle physics community.  His publisher wouldn’t agree to such an explosively damaging title and chose to shorten it to ‘god particle’, with Lederman acquiescing meekly, perhaps even gladly.  The book was published under the title “The God Particle”, with the intriguing sub-title, “If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?”!  One can readily imagine the impact on the sales figures if the main title had been replaced by a very prosaic ‘Higgs Boson’.

A peep into the past

Some of the key concepts and ideas of quantum physics central to understanding the significance of the new discovery have been presented in a purely qualitative way in three of my previous articles, numbered 30, 32, and 36 respectively.  They highlight the revolutionary contributions of India’s Satyendranath Bose after whom the boson is named, the great Albert Einstein whose collaboration with Bose led to radically new insights into the behavior of matter at the subatomic level, India-born astrophysicist Subramanyan Chandrasekhar whose theory of white dwarf stars built a bridge between quantum physics and astrophysics, quantum physicists Wolfgang Pauli, Enrico Fermi and Paul Dirac who made seminal contributions to quantum physics, and a trio of last year’s Nobel Prize winning cosmologists who showed that not only is the universe expanding but doing so at an ever increasing rate.  The reader will find it useful to go through them before continuing.  Even otherwise, he should be able to appreciate the implications of the latest discovery and why it is regarded as so vitally important to unraveling the secrets of nature both at the subatomic and cosmic scales.  This article attempts to minimize the hype and present the story succinctly and objectively.

The universe came into being with a ‘big bang’, a cataclysmic explosion in which both space and time had their beginnings, which is now known to have occurred 13.7 billion years ago.  Incredible as it may seem, most of the decisive events that shaped the future course of the universe occurred within about a quadrillionth of a second after the primordial explosion when the universe consisted of pure energy.  Everything else evolved from here onward in accordance with the laws of physics codified in what has come to be known as the ‘Standard Model’ as applied to fundamental particles and their interactions.  The recent discovery may well be the culmination of this edifice though many of its rough edges remain to be ironed out in due course.
Structure of the Atom

The idea that all matter is made up of some ‘fundamental’ building blocks dates back to ancient civilizations who regarded these to be familiar things like air, water, fire, earth, etc.  By early twentieth century the picture had changed dramatically, influenced by Dalton’s atomic theory of matter a century before.  The building blogs had expanded to 92 stable elements ranging from hydrogen to uranium and classifiable into recognizable groups within the periodic table of elements conceived by Mendeleev.  Each element was found to consist of specific numbers of more fundamental ‘particles’ called protons, neutrons, and electrons, with the protons and neutrons bound tightly together into a nucleus at the centre of the atom and a cloud of electrons spread around the nucleus very far away, but still within the atom.  This means that the atom is an enormous void, with an incredibly small fraction of its volume accounted for by the constituent particles.

Practically all the mass of the atom could be attributed to the nucleus.  The proton was found to be about two thousand times the mass of the electron, with the (free) neutron being very slightly more massive than the proton.

Electric charge was recognized as an important property of the electrons and protons, each electron having the same amount of charge as the proton, but of the opposite sign (negative).  The element as a whole is normally electrically neutral since the number of electrons in it is the same as the number of protons, the chemical property of the element depending crucially on this number and the distribution of electrons in the electron cloud surrounding the nucleus.
The Particle Zoo

The best way to understand the physics of particles is to let energetic charged particles like protons collide with other particles and study what happens in the process.  This can be done in two ways – one is to let nature do the job for us in the upper atmosphere where highly energetic primary cosmic rays (mostly protons) coming from distant space interact with the constituents of air and produce a wide variety of collision products that include some exotic particles as well as high energy photons which themselves normally trigger other similar processes.  Since such cosmic ray events are relatively rare, one needs a copious source of high energy charged particles with well-defined and precisely measurable energies and momenta.  This is where particle accelerators come in a big way and have revolutionized our understanding of particle physics.  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva which has been so much in the limelight recently is easily the world’s biggest and most expensive particle accelerator.  A bit more about it later.

Over a period of several decades, intensive experimental studies of this nature have produced a whole new world of particles, indeed hundreds of particles, most of them called mesons, giving rise to a veritable ‘particle zoo’, which was a cause for utter confusion among particle physicists in the early years.  It was quickly realized that most of the particles in this zoo were really secondary products, only some of them fitting the description of ‘fundamental’.
Particle Attributes

At whatever level, particles have several key attributes like mass, charge, and spin.  The masses of particles are generally expressed in equivalent energy units since mass and energy are basically the same according to Einstein’s theory of relativity.  The unit employed is the electron volt (eV) which is the energy gained by an electron in crossing a potential difference of one volt.  Since it is a very small unit, energies are expressed in units of keV, MeV, GeV, and TeV.  Accordingly the mass of an electron is 0.511 MeV and that of a proton 938 MeV or 0.938 GeV. The charge of a particle may be positive (+), negative (-) or zero.  Spin is a purely quantum mechanical property, loosely analogous to rotation of a rigid body.  For reasons yet to be deciphered, nature makes a huge distinction between particles of half integral spin, called fermions, and particles of integral spin (including zero), called bosons.  The consequences of this are dealt with in two of my previous articles referred to earlier.

The Standard Model

The Standard Model is a very comprehensive theory that attempts to explain everything in the known universe in terms of just a few truly fundamental particles and the forces of interaction among them.  These are:

    • 6 leptons
    • 6 quarks, and
    • 4 forces of interaction mediated by their corresponding carrier particles

For the most part, it has been a highly successful theory, with many of its predictions verified to extraordinary precision.  But it doesn’t explain everything.  In particular, it excludes gravity which has so far defied all attempts to be brought under the fold of a single unified theory of everything, the holy grail of theoretical physics.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary to point out that for every particle there also exists a corresponding antimatter particle, or antiparticle.  The antiparticle behaves exactly like its corresponding normal particle, except that it has an opposite charge where charged particles are concerned (opposite magnetic moment for uncharged particles).  Thus we have antiprotons and antielectrons, the latter better known as positrons.  When a matter particle collides with its antiparticle the result is a mutual and total annihilation of each other into pure energy.  Fortunately for us, antimatter is both extremely rare and scarce, posing little credible threat to our material world.  There is reason to believe that matter and antimatter had been produced in nearly equal amounts during the early phase of the big bang, but a slight excess of matter over antimatter at that stage meant an eventual elimination of most antimatter in course of time.

The six leptons of the standard model are (all fermions with spin ½):

  • the familiar electron,
  • the muon (0.106 GeV),
  • the tau particle (1.777 GeV), and
  • their associated neutrinos – electron neutrino, muon neutrino and tau neutrino

Neutrinos are produced inside stars (including of course the Sun), supernovae, nuclear reactors and in accelerators during particle collisions as well as other processes.  They are virtually massless particles travelling at the speed of light and interacting with other particles to such an incredibly low degree that trillions of them can pass right through the earth’s crust each second without any obstruction whatever.  Nevertheless, their discovery was possible only through a study of such exceptionally rare interaction with other particles of matter.

The six quarks of the standard model are (all fermions with spin ½):

  • up (0.002 GeV, 2/3 charge)
  • down (0.005 GeV, -1/3 charge)
  • charm (1.3 GeV , 2/3 charge)
  • strange (0.1 GeV, -1/3 charge)
  • top (173 GeV, 2/3 charge)
  • bottom (4.2 GeV, -1/3 charge)

An impressive array of circumstantial evidence has piled up for the quarks which cannot exist independently outside the nucleons whose constituents they are.  Their names are typical of the silly and arbitrary manner in which names are conceived in many areas of science, especially in particle physics.  The name ‘quark’ itself is drawn from a nonsensical word from a novel by Irish writer James Joyce.  The most massive of these, the top quark, was discovered in 1995 at Fermilab with its Tevatron, the world’s largest particle accelerator at that time.  Leon Lederman was a key player in the discovery.


Hadrons, which include protons and neutrons, are particles with integral electric charge produced by appropriate combinations of two or three quarks/antiquarks confined inside.  There are two categories of hadrons – baryons, like neutrons and protons made of three quarks and mesons made of one quark and one antiquark.  Thus the proton is a hadron corresponding to [(uud); net charge +1] and the neutron is also a hadron, corresponding to [(udd); net charge 0].

The pi+ meson (also called pion) is an example of a meson made of an up quark and a down antiquark, giving a net charge of +1.  Similarly, the pi_ meson (antipion) is made of a down quark and an up antiquark. Most mesons are unstable and decay into other particles because of their very short ‘shelf’ life.

Fundamental Interactions and Forces

It is fair to say that, at the most fundamental level, everything is made of quarks and leptons.  An even more important question is what holds them together.  The answer is that they do so through interaction with each other.  There are four fundamental interactions between these particles, and all forces can be attributed to these interactions.  Any force we can think of – friction, electrical attraction or repulsion that hold molecules together in matter in any form, magnetic attraction or repulsion, gravity (always attractive), particle decay, forces that bind nuclei together – is caused by one of these four fundamental interactions, viz., gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong.  The first two are something we encounter very commonly in our everyday life.  The last two show up only under special circumstances.

A subtle distinction is made between forces and interactions though they are often used synonymously.  The interactions of a particle include all the forces affecting it, but also all the decay processes and annihilations they may undergo.
At a fundamental level, a force is not just something that happens to particles.  It involves the exchange of something between two particles, the exchange of what are called carrier particles.
Of the four fundamental forces, gravity has practically no role to play at the sub-atomic level because of the extremely small masses involved.  However, it is vitally important at the cosmic scale, responsible for large scale aggregates of matter such as planets, stars, galaxies, etc.

The strong force holds quarks together to form hadrons and its carrier particles are called gluons.  The force has an extremely short range since quarks are confined inside baryons and mesons.  It is strong, in fact extremely strong, because it has to overcome the very high repulsive electric forces between the constituent positively charged protons and hold the nucleons together in the nucleus as a stable entity.

Weak interactions are responsible for the decay of massive quarks and leptons into lighter quarks and leptons.  When fundamental particles decay, we observe the particle vanishing and being replaced by two or more different particles.  Though the total of mass and energy is conserved, some of the original particle's mass is converted into kinetic energy, and the resulting particles always have less mass than the original particle that decayed.  The only matter around us that is stable is made up of the smallest quarks and leptons, which cannot decay any further.

Weak interactions are mediated by the W+, W-, and the Z particles.  The first two are electrically charged and the Z is neutral.  The Standard Model has united electromagnetic interactions and weak interactions into one unified interaction called electroweak.

The carrier particle for the electromagnetic force is the photon.  Photon energies may range from the very energetic gamma rays to very low energy radio waves.  Photons are massless and always travel at the speed of light.

The carrier particles are all bosons (spin=1).  The gluon is massless as well as chargeless, as is the photon.  However, the W and Z bosons are quite different.  The W has a large mass of 80.39 GeV with both positive and negative charge versions.  The Z boson has an even larger mass of 91.19 GeV and is chargeless.
For a wonderfully detailed and not too technical chart of the Standard Model, see: http://www.cpepweb.org/images/chart_2006_4.jpg  (This chart has no reference to the higgs boson).  It is part of a multimedia educational package under the caption ‘The Particle Adventure – The Fundamentals of Matter and Force’, available at http://particleadventure.org/.
The Higgs Boson

One of the conundrums in the early days of the Standard Model was how to account for the formation of material particles from the primordial soup and how they formed more complex particles, atoms, molecules, aggregates of matter like planets, stars, galaxies, etc., and even life itself from then on.  Without such a mechanism, the initial products of the big bang should all have flown off at the speed of light since they were all massless.  In other words, something was needed to impart mass to the particles, in addition to other attributes, thereby the inertia required to slow them down and participate in the interactions outlined earlier.  Peter Higgs, a British theoretical physicist, was one of a small band of people who addressed this issue in the early sixties and came up with an explanation complimenting the other findings of the Standard Model.  What he proposed was an all pervasive force field, later called the Higgs field, in which a mediating particle called the Higgs boson acted as the carrier particle much like the other bosons and accounted for the observed masses of the fundamental particles and their subsequent products.
The Higgs proposition was intellectually satisfying and a much needed cog in the wheel of the Standard Model.  However, consistent with the basic nature of science itself, only observational/experimental evidence would settle the matter decisively and this is what took nearly half a century to secure.  Unlike the huge number of particles discovered with numerous accelerators in controlled particle-particle collisions, including other carrier bosons, nothing corresponding to the expected properties of the hypothetical higgs particle was discovered until recently, adding to the mounting frustration of particle physicists.  It was recognized early on that this particle could be produced only in very high energy collision events, would itself have a very large mass, and therefore the discovery had to wait the availability of super colliders like the FNAL Tevatron and the CERN LHC.  The rest is history unveiled so dramatically earlier this month, with the LHC taking the cake.


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is quite simply the most complex and sophisticated instrument built till now for cutting edge scientific research.  Apart from the successful search for a Higgs boson, it is addressing some of the most fundamental questions of physics, advancing the understanding of nature at its deepest levels.  For a change, it is a European rather than an American enterprise, though its reach has been truly global.

The LHC lies at least a 100 m below ground level in a 3.8 m wide circular tunnel of 27 km circumference straddling the borders of Switzerland and France at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research near Geneva.  The tunnel houses two adjacent parallel beam pipes, intersecting at four points where gargantuan detectors capture the aftermath of the collisions (presently) between beams of protons travelling close to the speed of light in opposite directions.  Two of these detectors, CMS and Atlas, figured prominently in the recent discovery of the new particle.  The pipes are enveloped by 9300 huge superconducting magnets which operate close to absolute zero on the temperature scale using liquid helium for cooling.  Up to 4 TeV of energy can now be attained in each proton beam and this will go up to 7 TeV in due course.  Such high energies are needed to recreate through particle-particle collisions the conditions that are theorized to have existed in the primordial universe immediately after the big bang.

About 600 million collisions can be captured each second and their imprints recorded and analyzed in real time with the detectors using fully automated state of the art techniques that required a radically new computing technology called grid computing developed for the purpose at CERN (CERN was also the birthplace of the all too familiar World Wide Web through Tim Berners-Lee in 1989).  Only an incredibly small fraction of these collisions end up producing the kind of decay events that point to the involvement of the higgs particle at some stage.  This is the reason why the LHC has to be run for very long periods of time before a statistically significant number of expected ‘signature events’ accumulate for processing and analysis.
Thousands of scientists and engineers from all over the world are involved in the operations and studies at CERN headquarters as well as a worldwide network of centres.  The LHC at CERN easily dwarfs its American predecessor, the Tevatron at Fermilab, whose underground tunnel circumference is only 6.3 km and peak proton energy only 1 TeV, and which is heading towards permanent shutdown soon.

Incidentally, when the American scientific community failed to secure its government’s support for its ambitious Superconducting Super Collider project as a successor to its Tevatron, an 80 km circumference behemoth far more ambitiously conceived than the European CERN effort, the mantle of leadership in Particle Physics and Cosmology passed from its traditional stronghold in USA to Europe.
Unveiling the New Particle

CERN had given enough hints about a formal announcement of the discovery to be made at its headquarters on 4th of July.  A two hour webcast of presentations and discussions involving key representatives of the CMS and Atlas groups was masterfully orchestrated by its Director-General Rolf Heuer.  What had not been made known in advance was that these presentations would be purely technical in nature, meant mainly for professionals in the field.  This was a huge dampener, especially for TV channels like NDTV 24x7 that had planned a full live coverage and had to hastily involve its own experts in a larger role to lighten the tedium.  Even viewers with a decent background of contemporary physics must have felt let down as was the case with this writer.  However, most of the disappointment was made up in a lengthy and live media Q&A session where the media representatives posed numerous highly relevant and knowledgeable questions that drew the kind of non-technical responses they were really looking for.  This is when most of the lay viewers got a real picture of the implications, importance, and enormity of the discovery. Both CMS and Atlas experiments had discovered the particle independently, quite a massive boson with a mass of about 125 GeV, to a five sigma level of confidence, which meant that there was less than one in a 3.7 million possibility of a mistaken finding.

Rolf Heuer and his associates made some guarded statements, falling just short of claiming the discovery as that of the Higgs boson.  They said this might only be a Higgs boson, leaving open the possibility that this may be just one of many such bosons if a more refined version of the Standard Model, called Supersymmetry theory, gathers further support.  Heuer took particular care to stress that the discovery marked just the beginning of a series of investigations with the LHC in the coming years, addressing even deeper questions.  It is interesting and even heartening to note that the tag of ‘god particle’ was referred to in only one question and cleverly sidestepped by Heuer and company; similarly sidestepped was a question about a possible Nobel Prize for the discovery.

The programme took a nostalgic turn when the venerable 83-year old Peter Higgs himself was introduced from among the front benchers in the audience and stood up for a prolonged round of applause.  Later he said; “I'm rather surprised that it happened in my lifetime - I certainly had no idea it would happen in my lifetime at the beginning, more than 40 years ago, because at the beginning people had no idea about where to look for it, so it's really amazing for me to find out that it's really enough... for a discovery claim.  I think it shows amazing dedication by the young people involved with these colossal collaborations to persist in this way, on what is a really a very difficult task.  I congratulate them.”

Incidentally, Higgs is known to be an atheist, and displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the "God particle", as he believes the term "might offend people who are religious".

What Next?

Rolf Heuer could not have put it more accurately when he said that the present discovery is just the beginning of a series of investigations with the LHC over the next 10-15 years.  There are many crucial questions crying about the universe around us to be answered and LHC is expected to at the very least show the way for some of the answers.

Perhaps the most crucial question facing physicists arises from the fact that only about 4% of the universe is composed of matter as we know it.  Dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%) are believed to make up the rest, but they are at present hopelessly difficult to detect and study, other than to some extent through the gravitational forces they exert on the cosmic scale.  Another question is why nature is biased in favour of matter over antimatter.  Yet another is the nature and properties of the immensely hot and dense quark-gluon plasma believed to have existed immediately after the big bang.  Recreating this is one of the goals of the LHC.
Come September…

…the Nobel Prize Committee will have to decide on the people to whom this year’s honors should be bestowed.  Peter Higgs has emerged as a strong candidate for the Physics award, perhaps a certainty.  He has already been proposed by no less a person than Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest physicist the world has known since Einstein and Feynman.  Rather ironically, the Nobel Committee is yet to honor Hawking who held the same position as Newton in Cambridge and perhaps with comparable distinction in many respects. Somewhat surprisingly, Hawking had offered a bet of £100 that the Higgs particle would never be found and has admitted losing it.
Nobel prizes are normally given to utmost three people in a discipline each year.  If Higgs ends up at the top of the list who will be the other one or two?  In deciding this, can the committee ignore the monumental experimental work that led to the new discovery at CERN?  But then, excepting the Peace Prize, no organization has ever been given a Nobel Prize.  Is it not time to change this policy and award this year’s prize in Physics jointly to Peter Higgs and CERN itself, thus honoring the extraordinary contributions of thousands of scientists and engineers who made the discovery possible?