Saturday was a relaxed hour run in a forest preserve called Herrick Lake. The preserve is a mixed habitat preserve with limestone gravel trails circling through deep woods, open meadows and wetlands. Along the way the songs of birds accompany your skritching strides.
Sunday was a bike ride, and given that Sue had four hours to ride and I was up late finishing the social commitments of the 4th of July party at my house, it was not on my calendar to rise at 4:30 and get to Naperville for the ride.
But she did, and that meant it was up to me to figure out when and where to ride. During church a thought popped into my head. “It’s time for the summer ride through Morton Arboretum.” The Arb is 15+ miles from my house to the East. I would never ride that during heavy traffic periods in the suburbs but Sunday mornings are perfect.
Well, that’s honestly getting ahead of things a little bit. See, the proposed new experimental focus for Fermi will be the study of neutrinos, which are apparently microparticles capable of passing through any type of matter they choose to penetrate. Here’s how one scientific website describes neutrinos:
Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. Because neutrinos are electrically neutral, they are not affected by the electromagnetic forces which act on electrons. Neutrinos are affected only by a “weak” sub-atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it. If neutrinos have mass, they also interact gravitationally with other massive particles, but gravity is by far the weakest of the four known forces.
So, as I rode through Fermi Lab I was pretending to be a neutrino. That would actually be great, you see, because the wind resistance you normally experience on a bicycle would be greatly reduced if not absent altogether. You could ride at whatever rate you like because your body would slip right through other matter without much resistance. And that would be awesome. Perhaps I had ridden right into the Theory of Everything!
Because how cool would that be, to able to walk through walls? Perhaps Jesus himself was a big bundle of neutrinos capable of waltzing through time, space and matter? Or maybe Jesus was a Superhero, with superpowers?
But that raises the question as to why any comic book character never been called Neutrino? The ability to pass through matter would be the coolest superpower ever! It appears that these supposed science fiction comic book folks are still way behind the real discoveries of science.
Of course this neutrino thing could all be a farce just like the moon landing. Those guys and gals at Fermi could have concocted this neutrino stuff up in their own heads. You have to be pretty creative with your scientific imagination to wow the world and gain federal funding. “Look!” the scientists at Fermi said while filling out the grant for their newest experiments. “We just shot a neutrino to South Dakota! Now give us that money so we can shoot some more!” It’s a little known fact that scientists are really like kids with bb guns. They just shoot shit until someone tells them to stop.
All for science
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the funding science. In fact it matters not to me whether there are really neutrinos or not. Besides, I trust those Fermi people. They already gave us quarks, which are just about as cool and resulted in a design software called QuarkXPress that was all the rage in the 1990s. That’s how cool quarks turned out to be.
So we have to give the Fermi folks a little rope to work with on the neutrino thing. They’ve got a decent track record of busting up particles and having things like computer software after them. Let’s not forget the Higgs-Boson Particle either. That highly informative website “How Stuff Works” described the Higgs-Boson this way.
Particle physics usually has a hard time competing with politics and celebrity gossip for headlines, but the Higgs bosonhas garnered some serious attention. That’s exactly what happened on July 4, 2012, though, when scientists at CERN announced that they’d found a particle that behaved the way they expect the Higgs boson to behave. Maybe the famed boson’s grand and controversial nickname, the “God Particle,” has kept media outlets buzzing. Then again, the intriguing possibility that the Higgs boson is responsible for all the mass in the universe rather captures the imagination, too. Or perhaps we’re simply excited to learn more about our world, and we know that if the Higgs boson does exist, we’ll unravel the mystery a little more.
So it really is all about behavior in the end. If you find a form of matter that behaves the way you’d expect it to behave, then you’re onto something that could describe how the
whole universe really works. That goes nowhere to explain the behavior of Donald Trump’s hair, which still mystifies scientists, political pundits and those brainy geeks at TMZ. But we’ll save that subject for another day, Because The Donald is clearly from another dimension altogether and deserves to be shot out of a cannon of some sort or another. Just to see how his hair behaves.
That’s the kind of thing Fermi folks are trying to figure out with all this neutrino and Quark stuff. How and why stuff works. Which is why it was initially a shame that as a nation we did not let Fermi build the Superconducting Supercollider, which was supposed to be a 50-mile tunnel under the Illinois landscape.
That ended when the competition to build the facility got all political when Bush the First became President. Then the SS project moved to Texas, where billions of dollars were spent before the whole project was cancelled because ants were chewing through the power cables.
It’s true. The United States gave up on the project because ants put a stop to it. So the newest collider in the world is located in Europe, where ants apparently do not exist? Here’s how one scientific website describes the supercollider they built over there.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest and most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world.
So for a while Fermi has been relegated to interpreting results from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider while swatting at neutrinos with tennis racquets until that federal funding comes through for the study of neutrinos. It’s going to take one huge tennis racquet to hit a neutrino all the way to South Dakota. Or perhaps scientists at Fermi Lab will just use their BB guns.
Subatomic male ego
All these scientific thoughts of mine collided while passing the former collider “ring” at Fermi Lab. The “ring” was once used to smash subatomic particles together at high speed and analyze the output. That sounds a lot like what I used to do with my Hot Wheel cars as a kid, but the foundations of science do have to start somewhere, and it’s really not all that complex in the end.
Much to my surprise during my tour through Fermi I was caught from behind by a gal cyclist on a shiny new bike. I wrote about this phenomenon of getting caught from behind the other day. For a moment my male ego was broken into a thousand quarks of self doubt. But then I thought about my girlfriend who regularly scorches my ass on the bike anyway, and it didn’t hurt so much to get caught by yet another fit female with a bright smile and a shiny bike.
I knew that somewhere to the south, my girlfriend was already three hours into her four-hour ride. And when she was finished, she had an hour more to run. So I stopped feeling sorry for myself at having gotten caught and put my focus on the plan to ride to Morton Arboretum and then circle back to meet Sue at Centennial beach in Naperville. All would be perfect in the workout universe if the timing worked out.
Salt and blood
The trip through Morton turned out to be as compelling and illuminating as the journey through Fermi. It struck me that while the Morton Arboretum is a privately funded arboretum begun by the Morton Salt family, the organization depends on public support to be a self-sustaining operation. Annual membership is about $80-$90 for an individual, which gives you the right to walk or ride or run the grounds so long as you don’t walk or ride or run where they don’t tell you too.
But my membership is temporarily expired, so I rode into the Arb on my bike on the sly and made a figure eight loop of the roads with all the other runners and riders circling through the preserve. Fortunately none of us collided with the other.
But I did stop to listen to a loud, clear call of a chestnut-sided warbler erupting from the trees. That was a mistake to slow the bike, because the biggest cloud of mosquitoes you can imagine descended on my person. That was when I discovered that was actually a flesh and blood human being, and not a neutrino. Yet I do have the type of nutrients mosquitoes crave, which are blood and salt. And when I smacked one enterprising skeeter it produced a broad splat of bright red blood on my arm. That convinced me it was time to keep moving, lest I contract malaria or West Nile Virus and die on the spot.
Lost in the sun
So I pedaled the heck out of Morton to head southeast for the rendevous with Sue. And that worked out great, because we texted each other and agreed to meet at the gate. I was standing there innocently observing the sweat trickling down my arm when she emerged in a striped bikini that turned me back into a pile of neutrinos. She looked so cute in that suit my brain particles started to split off and unbundle in random fashion.
I suddenly felt lost in the sun. That meant all rational thought dissipated and you could have walked up to me and put your hand clean through my chest and never touch any other matter. That’s what happens to the male gender when it gets turned into a bundle of neutrinos through collision with the right bundle of matter.
We walked into the park together and settled down on our beach towels to soak up a little sun to the point. where I got overheated. That meant it was time for a swim. Sue threw me some goggles and I jumped into the lap lanes to try my luck navigating the cloudy expanse of the Centennial pool. Without lines to follow on the bottom, I had to really concentrate to swim in a straight line. On the way back, without the lane rope to guide me, I kept swimming into the concrete abutments. That was not good. My hand hit one of the abutments in time to prevent my head from doing the same. “Whoa,” I thought to myself. “I am definitely not a neutrino at this moment.”
It made me realize once again that swimming through water can be much tougher than you think. The human body has mass, and try as you like to imagine that water is a simple substance that you can push out of the way at will, alas it is not so. In fact without that mass to push against, you could go nowhere in the water.
So I kept on with the freestyle stroke and got in about 400 meters of hapless paddling before returning to the safety of the Gatorade blanket and my girlfriend’s fine shape in the sun. For all the mysterious physical properties of the universe, and despite my best attempts to imagine myself as a free-flowing neutrino, I still have a ways to go in the pool. One can only imagine what the means in the realm of open water swimming. Maybe I can hire a Fermi physicist to shoot me across the pool with their neutrino gun. Then all I’ll have to figure out is how to turn around. Can neutrinos do a flip turn?