Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Quantum of Boredom

I was always under the erroneous impression that lawyers wrote the most unreadable prose. After browsing through hundreds of articles spewing mumbo jumbo on the Higgs Boson, I am convinced that this befitting accolade should be reserved for theoretical physicists, because they have this incredible gift of transforming the infinitely interesting to the most infinitesimally insipid things.

Analyse the ‘The God Particle’ kerfuffle to draw your own conclusions. Here was a conceptual particle that put the bang into the big bang and made the earth, the moon and everything around us, possible. And what do our physicists call this wonder particle? The oh-so-boring ‘Higgs Boson’. That’s like christening ‘Mozart’ as ‘Square Root 2’. Can’t get more sterile, right?

That’s the problem with the scientific community. In their anxiety to appear ruthlessly objective, coldly factual and dispassionately logical, they tend to lose the soul of their concept when they assign names to their ideas.

Just examine ‘The Standard Model’ of particle physics. Supposedly the grand theory that summates the building blocks of the universe. It doesn’t get bigger than this. And yet, they choose an utterly uninspiring assembly-line name like ‘Standard Model’. Surely the minds that can conjure up a beautiful experiment like the Large Hadron Collider can do better.

Sadly, sleep inducing names have always been a constant in the exciting history of particle physics. Except for the one rare leap of imagination when Murray Gell-Mann borrowed a whimsical sound he liked from James Joyce’s poem ‘Three Quarks for Muster Mark’, physicists have always preferred to hide behind the most yawn-worthy names.

The fundamental particle ‘Lepton’ was named after the Greek word for ‘fine or small’. ‘Baryon’, the composite particle made of three quarks, was derived from ‘Barys’ or ‘heavy’. The intermediate mass ‘Meson’ was called so, as ‘meso’ means ‘mid’. While the ‘Hadron’ was considered appropriate as ‘hadros’ cued ‘thick’ and the composite particle existed due to a strong force.

Add Muon, Electron, Gluon, Tachyon and Proton to the list and you’ll realise that all it takes to whip up something subatomic is a literal Greek word and the –on suffix. Makes you wonder if the next groundbreaking discovery is going to be a ‘Moron’!