Every new scientific discovery and invention has the potential to change the world and how we operate within it. But one in particular changed the way science itself carries out its research and does its business. The cyclotron was that invention and the man behind it was Ernest Lawrence.
It would transform everything about how science was conducted, in ways that still matter today.
Michael Hiltzik – Big Science
The cyclotron that Ernest built could fit in the palm of your hand.
However, the cyclotron we are now most familiar with, The Large Hadron Collider is contained in a circular tunnel 17 miles in circumference, spanning the boarders of two countries.
Yet, it basically does what Lawrence’s cyclotron did and that is to focus on the infinitesimally small particles that reside inside the atom.
I find that having the largest scientific creation on earth, to attempt to discover the smallest particle in the universe, a very unique dichotomy. The particle that the Hadron Collider was designed to discover is known as the Higgs-Boson particle. But, just on the car ride to work today, I found out that they now think there may be even smaller particles to search for and that finding them could just lead to even smaller ones.
Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of the L.A. Times, tells the story of how scientific research was transformed because of Lawrence’s invention and the results that sprang out of this revolutionary new way of doing science.
No longer was it the tinkering of one or two people in a laboratory, it now requires huge sums of money, hundreds of scientists, engineers, doctors and virtually every discipline from math to physics to architecture.
The results are even more grandiose. All are part of this radical shift that Michael chronicles in his book: Big Science. From the atom bomb to the discovery of new isotopes that changed the periodic table to virtually all new medical procedures.
Michael’s thorough journalistic approach shows the positive results of “Big Science” along with its troublesome issues that are still being debated today.
It also explores how although “Big Science” is a dominant force in business, the military and our universities, sometimes it still requires the tinkering of one or two people, literally in their garages, to still give us the biggest bang for the buck.
In fact, Ennest Lawrence himself, after leading the mission to uncover the force of the atom with the great physicist Robert Oppenheimer during their leading roles in the Manhattan Project, returned to his garage and became one of the pioneers of colored television. His patented tube would be the backbone of Sony’s Trinitron television.
So, just like Steve Jobs and Steven Wozniak, two people in a garage can still achieve life altering discoveries. By the way, I just saw the film Steve Jobs and it is a masterpiece of cinema.
My conversation with Michael debuts this week on most of our PBS stations and you don’t need to know any science ahead of time to appreciate the awe and wonder that humankind is capable of achieving.
Enjoy the show,
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