LNC CERN

Physicist Brian Cox has two jobs: working with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and explaining big science to the general public. He’s a professor at the University of Manchester. Based at the University of Manchester, Brian Cox works at CERN in Geneva on the ATLAS experiment, studying the forward proton detectors for the Large Hadron Collider there. He’s a professor at the University of Manchester, working in the High Energy Physics group, and is a research fellow of the Royal Society.

He’s also become a vital voice in the UK media for explaining physics to the public. With his rockstar hair and accessible charm, he’s the go-to physicist for explaining heady concepts on British TV and radio. (If you’re in the UK, watch him on The Big Bang Machine.) He was the science advisor for the 2007 film Sunshine. He answers science questions every Friday on BBC6 radio’s Breakfast Show. “If people don’t have an understanding of what science is and what scientists do, then they can tend to think that global warming, for example, is just a matter of opinion.”
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.

Two beams of subatomic particles called ‘hadrons’ – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC. There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what’s for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe. For decades, the Standard Model of particle physics has served physicists well as a means of understanding the fundamental laws of Nature, but it does not tell the whole story. Only experimental data using the higher energies reached by the LHC can push knowledge forward, challenging those who seek confirmation of established knowledge, and those who dare to dream beyond the paradigm.

Mars Surface

The Twin Peaks are modest-size hills to the southwest of the Mars Pathfinder landing site. They were discovered on the first panoramas taken by the IMP camera on the 4th of July, 1997, and subsequently identified in Viking Orbiter images taken over 20 years ago. The peaks are approximately 30-35 meters (-100 feet) tall. North Twin is approximately 860 meters (2800 feet) from the lander, and South Twin is about a kilometer away (3300 feet). The scene includes bouldery ridges and swales or “hummocks” of flood debris that range from a few tens of meters away from the lander to the distance of the South Twin Peak.

In science fiction stories, Mars is the favourite home of aliens. No one has found any green Martians wandering over the planet. But many scientists believe that Mars may be the best place to look for simpler forms of life. Of all the planets in the Solar System, Mars is the most similar to Earth. Although it’s probably too cold for life to exist on the surface of Mars, it could exist in warmer pockets below ground. Micro-organisms could be living around hydro-thermal vents near the planet’s surface. In the past, Mars was a very different world. The Mars Global Surveyor probe found evidence that there was running water on the planet’s surface. This would have made the planet much more hospitable to life.

Mars is the most similar planet to earth in the solar system. It is therefore one of the first places to look when we are considering life on other planets. It is certainly one of the first places that science fiction writers have looked. Ever since H.G Wells wrote War of the Worlds, books and films have portrayed different images of martians and what their civilisation may look like. Now that we have visited Mars we know that there are no advanced races living on the red planet.
When the Viking Landers were sent to Mars in the 1970s they found a cold desolate dry world that seemed unlikely to be able to support life. With such cold temperatures, a thin atmosphere and no sign of liquid water the chance of finding even some sort of microscopic life forms seemed remote. Tests performed by both Viking landers seemed to back this up. However with the advance of astrobiology in recent years it is worth taking another look at those experiments.
The Viking landers carried several experiments designed to detect organic materials and organisms on the Martian surface. These experiments gave mixed results. While one experiment detected no organic compounds in the soil, another test known as the Labeled Release experiment (LR) found positive results. The LR was designed to drop a nutrient solution into a soil sample from Mars, and then measure the changes in the gaseous sample container to determine if the changes were organically induced (if bacteria were multiplying because of the nutrients they’d been given). When the experiment was conducted on both Viking landers, it gave positive results almost immediately. Most scientists on the Viking mission believed the positive results were attributed to the discovery of oxides in the soil, and that a chemical reaction occured when the nutrient solution was mixed with the oxides. However, the LR’s designer and principal investigator, Dr. Gilbert Levin, was convinced that his experiment found life.
Levin also says that the experiment which did not find organic materials in the soil were not sensitive enough to detect it in small amounts. This has been confirmed by NASA as possible. The experiment in question was tested in Antarctica and also found negative results, which was incorrect because there are organic materials there. This does not prove that the Viking landers found evidence of life. It means that the tests conducted were unsatisfactory.