Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Large Hardon Rap

I am sure there is nobody in the planet with access to an e-mail account that hasn’t’ yet seen the ‘Hardon Rap’ video. Till the video came out, everyone who was talking about the Large Hardon Collidor was taking about how the world would end the moment it was switched on.

It didn’t seem to matter to anybody that it would take weeks for actual data to come in. Or that the black holes that would be created would be too small to affect anything except the experimental readings. Fed on a staple diet of science fiction, and science fiction that is not very high on the science part of it either, people could only think mad scientists creating the LHC so they could unwittingly annihilate the known Universe.

And then Kate McAlpine’s rap video started doing the rounds and pretty soon people were hooked -

The music was catchy, the lyrics accessible and, most importantly, the science bang on.

So much of Particle Physics is pure mathematics, that even most science graduates struggle to grasp it. Writers of popular science have always suffered from either of two problems – simplify so the concepts are accessible and you run the risk of oversimplification, or try to keep it accurate and not reach the desired audience. It is a tightrope walk, and most people have chosen the former part. But few have done so as effectively as the 23 year old science communicator who penned the lines -

You see particles flying, in jets they spray

But you notice there ain’t nothin’, goin’ the other way

You say, “My law has just been violated – it don’t make sense!

There’s gotta be another particle to make this balance.”

And it might be dark matter, and for first

Time we catch a glimpse of what must fill most of the known ‘Verse.”


Antimatter is sort of like matter’s evil twin

Because except for charge and handedness of spin

They’re the same for a particle and its anti-self

But you can’t store an antiparticle on any shelf

Cuz when it meets its normal twin, they both annihilate

Matter turns to energy and then it dissipates

With lyrics so simple, it is hard to not get the basic message. Naturally, therefore, nobody is talking about the world coming to an end anymore – they are busy rapping away.

I would always be skeptical when I heard stories of how one song changed the course of human thought. I now believe those stories – Kate McAlpine’s slightly quirkily named Hardon Rap can take its place along with Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind.

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