FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Lost in collisions at the CERN

By Denis Balibouse

A big part of being a news photographer is doing research. Not just the search for themes or events to cover but also finding enough information before an event so that we are able to cover it correctly. Taking a photo is often one of the last things I do in a long job.

If there's one subject I have trouble understanding, despite almost 10 years covering it, it's the search for the Higgs boson in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. When it comes to CERN, I often find myself “lost in collisions”.

I first took photographs at CERN in September 2004, a few years after digging commenced for the 27km-long (17 miles) tunnel of the LHC. I went to a site in France where CERN was celebrating its 50th anniversary by pointing beams to the night sky to give those of us on the ground an idea about the size of the ring. I could only get five out of the 24 beams in my photo, as it was so gigantic.

One of the things that I have trouble understanding is what the people at CERN actually do. What are hadrons, protons, ions, quarks and gluons? What does TeV and GeV mean and why can't I find so many of the symbols that CERN uses on my keyboard? And why are they sending particles invisible to the human eye around a 27 km (16 miles) circle at almost the speed of light (they say 99.99999 %) in order to collide with other particles?

Nevertheless, they have convinced me that their research is necessary, as it helps us to understand where we come from, and what came after the Big Bang. I know that we already owe a great debt to the boffins at CERN: this blog post would not be possible without the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee started in 1989.

Harun Yahya’s Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

(Harun Yahya at a news conference in Istanbul May 12, 2011/Murad Sezer)

France’s staunchly secularist educational establishment was shocked four years ago when schools around the country suddenly began receiving free copies of a richly illustrated Muslim creationist book entitled the “Atlas of Creation.” The book by Istanbul preacher and publisher Harun Yahya had come out in Turkey the year earlier. After the French Education Ministry warned teachers not to use it and held a seminar on how to deal with creationist pupils, the issue dropped out of the public discussion. But the Harun Yahya group has been spreading its view in France and is now holding a series of conferences on them. Here is my feature after visiting one of the first meetings in the current series: Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) – Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

UK astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees wins 2011 Templeton Prize

(     (A supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, in a composite image released to Reuters November 15, 2010/Chandra X-ray Observatory Center)

((A supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood, in a composite image released to Reuters November 15, 2010/Chandra X-ray Observatory Center)

British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, whose research delves deep into the mysteries of the cosmos, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension. The one million sterling ($1.6 million) award, the world’s largest to an individual, was announced on Wednesday in London. Rees, master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, is former head of the Royal Society and a life peer.

Announcing the award, the United States-based Templeton Foundation said Rees’s insights into the mysteries of the Big Bang and so-called black holes in space have “provoked vital questions that address mankind’s deepest hopes and fears… Lord Rees has widened the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of ‘multiverses’ or infinite universes… The ‘big questions’ Lord Rees raises — such as ‘how large is physical reality?’ — are reshaping the philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life.”

Imperfections mar hopes for “ethical” reprogrammed stem cells

stem cell

(Institute of Cellular Medicine, in San Jose, Costa Rica, May 18, 2010/Juan Carlos Ulate )

When scientists announced five years ago they could reprogram ordinary skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, religious conservatives and others who opposed the use of stem cells cheered the advance. But while they have proven to be a powerful new way to study human disease, the reprogrammed cells — known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells — are no substitute for embryonic stem cells.

“This has strong policy implications,” Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard Medical School said in a telephone interview. “It has not ever been a scientifically driven argument that iPS cells are a worthy and complete substitute for embryonic stem cells. Those arguments were always made based on political and religious opposition to embryonic stem cells.”

Lourdes calls a healing “remarkable,” avoiding the term “miracle”

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(Pilgrims pray at the Lourdes grotto, where the Roman Catholic tradition says St. Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858, photographed on November 5, 2006/Regis Duvignau)

The Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes has announced the “remarkable healing” of a French invalid, avoiding the traditional term “miracle” because its doctors increasingly shy away from calling an illness or condition incurable. The case of Serge François, 56, whose left leg was mostly paralysed for years, was the first healing announced since the Church eased some rules in 2006 for declaring that a person was healed thanks to visiting the site.

The Catholic Church teaches that God sometimes performs miracles, including cures that doctors can’t explain. Sceptics reject this as unscientific and explain sudden recoveries as psychological phenomena or the delayed result of treatment.

Saudis want more science in religion-heavy education

saudi ed 1

(Secondary students sit for an exam in Riyadh June 15, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

Saudi teenager Abdulrahman Saeed lives in one of the richest countries in the world, but his prospects are poor, he blames his education, and it’s not a situation that looks like changing soon. “There is not enough in our curriculum,” says Saeed, 16, who goes to an all-male state school in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “It is just theoretical teaching, and there is no practice or guidance to prepare us for the job market.”

Saeed wants to study physics but worries that his state high school is failing him. He says the curriculum is outdated, and teachers simply repeat what is written in text books without adding anything of practical value or discussions. Even if the teachers did do more than the basics, Saeed’s class, at 32 students, is too big for him to get adequate attention. While children in Europe and Asia often start learning a language at five or six, Saudi students start learning English at 12. Much time is spent studying religion and completing exercises heavy with moral instruction.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of the globe’s oil reserves and thanks to high oil prices it has almost tripled its foreign assets to more than $400 billion (248 billion pounds) since 2005. The region’s thinkers had a profound influence on the evolving western science of the Middle Ages. But from kindergarten to university, its state education system has barely entered the modern age. Focussed on religious and Arabic studies, it has long struggled to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers that Saudi needs.

France to renew tight bioethics limits, critics hit Catholic lobbying

ivf

(An in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure in Warsaw, October 26, 2010/Kacper Pempel )

France’s parliament opened debate on revising its bioethics laws on Tuesday amid protests that Roman Catholic Church lobbying had thwarted plans to ease the existing curbs on embryonic stem cell research. The bill, originally meant to update a 2004 law in light of rapid advances in the science of procreation, would also uphold bans on surrogate motherhood and assisted procreation for gays.

The debate coincided with news of France’s first “saviour sibling,” a designer baby conceived in vitro to provide stem cells to treat a sibling suffering from a severe blood disorder.

God did not create the universe, gravity did, says Stephen Hawking

hawkingGod did not create the universe and the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.

In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday. (Photo: Stephen Hawking,  June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Israel Museum takes a new look at the history of the Holy Land

jerusalem museumA new Jerusalem exhibit displaying a million years of history in the Holy Land offers Bible buffs and skeptics alike a chance to say: “I told you so!”  The Israel Museum, fresh-faced after a three-year, $100 million upgrade, offers an unparalleled look into the development of monotheistic religions, while leaving plenty of room for both science and faith. (Photo: A statue of the Emperor Hadrian at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem July 20, 2010/Baz Ratner)

The museum’s more devout visitors may feel vindicated by a collection of three-thousand-year-old weapons used by ancient warriors in the Battle of Lachish, verifying the fighting as depicted in the Bible.  The scientifically minded can point to a set of 1.5 million year old bull horns on display around the corner, by far predating Earth’s creation as described by the book of Genesis.

A new exhibit features the reconstruction of a church originally built about 400 years after the time of Jesus. It has daunting similarities to a synagogue of the same period reconstructed alongside.  The influence can also be seen in later Islamic relics on display nearby.

Scientists inch towards finding elusive “God particle” creating cosmos

LHC 1 (Photo: A core magnet in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, March 22, 2007/Denis Balibouse)

Scientists working with particle accelerators in Europe and the United States said on Monday they may be closing in on the elusive Higgs Boson, the “God particle” believed crucial to forming the cosmos after the Big Bang.

Researchers from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project near Geneva said in just three months of experiments they had already detected all the particles at the heart of our current understanding of physics, the Standard Model.

The International Conference on High Energy Physics in Paris heard that experiments were progressing faster than expected and entering a stage in which “new physics” would emerge. This could include long-awaited proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson and the detection of dark matter, believed to make up about a quarter of the universe alongside an observable 5 percent and 70 percent consisting of invisible dark energy.