I’ve read some interesting books in my time, assuming — of course — that “time” actually exists. As we pondered in my column — Is Time Truly an Illusion? — “Did time exist before the Big Bang, was time an emergent property of the Big Bang, is time just something that keeps everything from happening at once, or does time as a fundamental property simply not exist at all?” The thing is that, if I’m following the arguments correctly, the majority of today’s physicists don’t believe in time as an independent, fundamental property or quality of the universe. In fact, it now appears that there really isn’t such a thing as space that “contains” things, and there isn’t really such a thing as time during the course of which events occur, all of which makes me think of the play on words, “Quarks, the dreams that stuff is made of.” Sadly, much like Pooh Bear, I fear I am a bear of little brain. Happily, there are people with far bigger brains who are doing the heavy lifting with regard to questions of this ilk. For example, I just heard from the guys and gals at the University of Kansas (KU for short) that a research team led by Daniel Tapia Takaki, associate professor of physics and astronomy, has joined the ALICE experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The ALICE Time Projection Chamber (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: CERN)
CERN, of course, is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, with the participation of 1,927 members from 39 countries and 174 institutions. ALICE, an acronym standing for “A Large Ion Collider Experiment,” is one of the largest LHC projects (other programs include ATLAS, CMS, FASER, LHCb, MoEDAL, and TOTEM). With regards to ALICE, Daniel says, “It was originally designed to answer the question, ‘What happens when the most dense and hottest matter waves of lead ions interact with each other?’ Tackling this question implies studying the primordial hot and dense matter of quarks and gluons, known as the quark gluon plasma, that is thought to have existed a few microseconds after the Big Bang.” Daniel goes on to say, “We’ve been preparing experiments to observe fine features of the ‘glue’ that binds quarks and gluons together, to understand fundamental questions such as why quark and gluons are never found as free matter waves – a phenomenon called confinement.” Funnily enough, I was FaceTiming with my mother about just this topic only the other day. Of course, communication with one’s mother can be a funny old thing on occasion. The question she actually asked was, “Did you comb your hair this morning before you came into work?” Reading between the lines, however, I could tell that what she was really wondering was, “Why are quarks and gluons never found as free matter waves?” This is certainly something I’ve been pondering myself for quite some time, so let’s hope that Daniel and his team come up with the answers to these questions. I’m really hoping that we will discover whether or not space and time exist, or if we are merely bubbles in a sea of quantum foam, while I still have a corporeal presence in this plane of existance. Of course, if you already know the answers to these questions — or have any other thoughts on this topic — please feel free to share them with the rest of us in the comments below.