‘Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it’, said theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. I saw what he meant when I was watching a video about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the one which famously discovered Higgs Bosun or ‘God Particle’. If that wasn’t enough, they announced last year that they’ve found an even smaller particle labelled a Tetraquark.
This stuff fascinates me. As a marketing agency, working exclusively at the cutting-edge of tech, my team and I are constantly having to decipher the intricacies and complexities of new, sometime revolutionary tech, and break it down into plain language that will sell it to the uneducated.
So, I’ve challenged myself. Today, I will attempt to ‘uncomplicate’ the process that discovered the most expensive particles ever found and ask, as Julius Sumner-Miller did, ‘Why is it so?
The Biggest Scientific Instrument Ever Built
In Geneva, close to the French border, 10,000 scientists built a 27-kilometre underground tube with gigantic digital cameras connected to 1000’s of kilometres of wire and 100’s of computers that capture millions of collisions a second. This is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The biggest scientific instrument ever built. The biggest particle accelerator on earth and the most expensive at 10 billion Euros plus 1 billion a year in running costs.
So, why was it built? What did the backers get for their money?
The LHC was built to help scientists:
- Understand how the universe grew out of the Big Bang.
- Learn what the universe is made of, how it behaves, and how to predict its future.
- Learn more about black holes by using the LHC for simulation.
- Discover as yet undiscovered particles.
- Reveal extra dimensions of space, beyond the three we currently see.
How did I go? Condensing the weird science that is quantum physics into a couple of plain English paragraphs? I’m pretty pleased!
Now let’s look at the ‘features’, and evaluation of the ‘economics’, of the LHC. If it were the latest and greatest tech innovation, would we be able to convince our target market to pay for it?
The Most Expensive Particle Ever Found
The collider smashes together trillions of protons, so that physicists can sift through the mountains of debris looking for sub-atomic particles – like the Higgs Boson or God Particle.
In 2012 they found it, the so-called ‘God Particle’, because current theory says the universe would fall apart without it.
In 10 long years, that’s all they found. That makes the Higgs Boson the most expensive particle ever found.
Image source: THE SUN, a British Tabloid, claimed in a sensationalist article that: ‘photos taken above CERN’s Large Hadron Collider lead to wild new conspiracy theories … one of these was that Geneva would be sucked into a dark hole in space.
How would you sell such a grandiose project to your board? I can’t imagine getting away with this when marketing other technologies. In the LHC’s case, the ‘board’ comprises the governments of 21 member countries of CERN, the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, a somewhat larger version of our ANSTO.
CERN says: ‘ … it will also allow us to verify if other particles exist at the LHC energy scale. Their existence might resolve some of the outstanding puzzles of contemporary physics, such as the presence of the enigmatic dark matter.
Might an uninformed audience need a bit more convincing?
In 2016, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney borrowed the Large Hadron Collider exhibition from the London Science Museum, and I couldn’t wait to get there.
One exhibit showed a dramatisation of the control room of the LHC on the big video screen, showing researchers talking about how they found the Higgs Boson. The exciting ‘unblinding’, the discovery of the particle that Professor Higgs from Edinburgh had predicted the existence of 60 years ago.
A young female scientist recalled how she had to present the breakthrough to an astonished world, after several sleepless nights. I listened with great anticipation, but I must’ve missed some vital piece in the puzzle. My companion looked perplexed; she’d missed it, too.
A little later we happened upon a reconstruction of the sleepless young researcher’s office. Here, at last, we saw the manifestation of this amazing breakthrough, a small blip on a graph. We looked at each other in again and shook our heads.
We wondered how the physicists managed to persuade so many governments to contribute 10 billion Euros to the discovery of a particle they couldn’t even see, let alone understand its function. Might Aussie Tech companies be a bit more sceptical?
Shining a Light on Darkness
The challenge for particle physics is discovering the order of the universe, its dimensions and its workings. This 12-minute TED talk by physicist Harry Cliff, delivered in plain English, makes clear the yawning gaps in our current knowledge.
Dr Cliff says that 95% of the universe is pretty much a mystery to physicists.
He says we understand the 5% that is made up of atoms. The rest is divided into dark matter and dark energy (see below). Dark matter remains a complete mystery. While dark energy is thought to be responsible for the universe expanding at an ever-increasing rate.
What’s the Payback?
CERN says its particle accelerators and detectors have applications in everyday life.
‘Invented as tools for research, there are thousands of particle accelerators in operation in the world today … the vast majority in applications ranging from medical diagnosis and therapy to computer chip manufacture.’
CERN adds that electronic particle detection techniques have revolutionised medical imaging.
Detectors invented at CERN, in the late sixties, allowed X-ray images to be made using a fraction of the dose required by photographic methods. Crystals developed at CERN in the 1980’s, are now used in PET scanners. The latest detector technology will see PET and MRI imaging techniques combined in a single device. With a bit of luck, the High-Luminosity LHC will also throw some light on the dark matter in our universe, that is still such a profound mystery.
So, what’s the punchline? What does all of this have to do with marketing tech?
Well, it’s simple. The job of marketing tech is very much the same as getting funding for the LHC and other Quantum Physics toys:
- It’s non-tangible, you’re investing in a vision.
- It requires long-term thinking.
- Apart from the obvious features, there may be myriad unforeseen benefits.
- You don’t necessarily understand exactly what it does, or how it does it and in reality, it doesn’t really matter. What you should be interested in is how it will work for you to accelerate your sales.
Imbue the above concepts into your marketing communications and you’ll be in a great position to start the conversation.
I think I’ll contact CERN about how to ‘un-complicate’ the benefits of their next big thing. Looks like a marketing opportunity of astronomical scale