Lawrence Krauss on Science

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Famed ASU Physicist Lawrence Krauss makes his monthly appearance on Arizona Horizon to talk about the latest science news, including new results on the search for the Higgs Boson particle.

Ted Simons: Once a month, world-renowned ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss makes a visit to the "Arizona Horizon" studios to discuss the latest in science news. Joining me now is professor Lawrence Krauss. Oddly enough. Good to see you again.

Lawrence Krauss: Good to be back as always.

Ted Simons: There's so much to talk about.

Lawrence Krauss: The easy stuff now, get that out of the way. Now, we're going to do the real stuff.

Ted Simons: The Higgs boson, confirmed we now know that this molasses thing --

Lawrence Krauss: We've talked about it a bunch of times and what's really exciting is a few weeks ago, the experiments said that they have confirmed that this not only walks and quacks like a duck but looks like a duck and it has all the properties of this remarkable particle which tells us in some sense that our ideas of the origins of mass are really true. And I have to tell you they were very, very conservative about this. They waited until the probability was better in in a million that it was not wrong in a sense and that's continued on and on but there was clearly a particle that was discovered but the question was it the particle we're looking for? That's the really important thing.

Ted Simons: And this was the thing that when smaller stuff passes through it, it's like molasses and thus you get pass.

Lawrence Krauss: Exactly, that's why it has certain properties. If this idea is really true and it's remarkable that it's true, the particles that make you and I up have mass by accident. There's this background field and most of the -- and, in fact, if it wasn't there, all the particles would be massless. Some particles interact more strongly with that field and get slowed down more and act heavier, and some particles attract more weakly with the field and that tells us the properties of the particle because the field is associated with the particle. So this particle, interacts with some particles more strongly and other particles more weakly and that's the type of thing they can measure in the large Hadron collider.

Ted Simons: So where does the Higgs come from?

Lawrence Krauss: That's the good question. That's a really good question and the answer is we don't know yet. We know it's there, we know its part of the standard model of particle physics. It was a crazy idea, I thought so slippery that I didn't think it was real that nature would have this background field that would -- and it really says as the university cooled down it cooled in one state rather than other state. If it cooled in the other state, we wouldn't here. It really is an accident. The question is why does it have the properties it has and why did that field form and those are the questions we really want to answer at the large hadron collider and it's turned off for two years while it's being upgraded and if we measure the Higgs and nothing else, it will be the best of all words and the worst of all worlds and it won't answer the fundamental questions.

Ted Simons: Is there another boson out there or a different Higgs out there that you guys at least suspect was hovering around?

We've got a lot offed ideas. We've had years of sensory deprivation and we've been hallucinating. There are a lot of ideas and one of them suggests a new symmetry of nature which might explain why the Higgs has the property it has but it would predict two Higgs, plus new particles, some of which could be the dark matter which you've also talked about. We need to see those things when the large hadron collider turns back on. If we don't, it tells us that those ideas aren't right perhaps but it doesn't tell us what the right track is and as I say, it will be really a shame if it doesn't discover something beyond the Higgs, in spite of the fact that it's an incredible triumph.

Ted Simons: Two separate Higgs, you're not going quantum on me.

Lawrence Krauss: Two for the particles of different mass and prescribed properties and a whole bunch of new particles. We've seen half the particles in nature.

Ted Simons: It's a big deal but it's like people are just pooh-poohing this a little bit.

Lawrence Krauss: It was -- it got such hype on July 4th last here that people are saying enough already with the Higgs. But the physicists, it really is a big deal, and I think the important thing is they're being very, very cautious and careful before they proclaim this particle because we have been waiting for it for half a century and it would be pretty embarrassing if it was something else.

Ted Simons: We'll see where to take it from here.

Lawrence Krauss: We've got a few years to wait. If you're going to Switzerland, it's a good time to go see the large hadron collider because the experiment is down so you can go underground.

Ted Simons: In for repairs for a couple of years. Curiosity on Mars discovers nutrients?

Lawrence Krauss: It's really neat. Of course, we really want to know if there's life on Mars or ever was. We're getting closer and closer and so we talked before about the fact that they discovered stream beds, there was running water on Mars and we discovered rocks with running water. Mates now, done is go -- what's now done is strip into the rocks and look at the property of the materials and there are nutrients like potassium and nitrogen, the kind of thing you might hope could be nutrients for early life. Plus, more importantly it seems to me is that material is not oxidized. Mars is red because it's oxidized, but, in fact, if oxygen existed on earth, life would never have evolved because all those organic materials would have been oxidized and lost their energy and never could have produced you and me. So the fact that some of that material is not oxidized in the stream beds means there's energy available for life. So there's the energy available for life because it's not oxidized and there are the nutrients. So the properties are there, we haven't discovered life by any means yet, either extant or extinct but it's a much better bet.

Ted Simons: I was going to say are we talking billions of years ago when this likely happened?

Lawrence Krauss: The running water was fairly recent. So we don't know. The answer is we don't know. It could have been billions of years ago and for me what makes it exciting is that it could have been that the first forms of life in our solar system evolved on Mars and came to earth by meteorite. If you want to know what a Martian looks like, look in the mirror.

Ted Simons: Before we let you go, you're having a stories event --

Lawrence Krauss: We're having an origins story weekend. Two events and I'm really excited about. The first night on Friday is science, myth and reality and we have a test screening of a brand-new feature-length film and we're going to show the film and the audience can actually give their input and it's a major new feature film, and then it's about Richard Dawkins and me and follows us around but it has a bunch of Hollywood stars and other people and a well-known author is going to be there, Richard Dawkins will be there and we'll have a panel afterwards and also, a very special guest appearance, I can't tell you who on Friday night and Saturday we have origin stories with some of the best science popularizers in the world, neil degrasse Tyson, bill nye, going to be a great night and I think that may almost be sold out. So you've got to get your tickets soon.

Ted Simons: Bill nye's the science guy.

Lawrence Krauss: He's the science guy but on this program, I'm the science guy.

Ted Simons: That's right. And it was interesting, the science of storytelling and the storytelling of science.

Lawrence Krauss: The point is well exactly because science -- both those things are there. Science is a wonderful series of stories. We try to do it once a month and so there's a way of telling stories and so we thought if we get the best science storytellers in the world, each of them will do a little presentation of their favorite science story and we'll talk about how to make science more interesting and how to use the wonderful stories of science to get kids and-- and adults excited about science. There will be the movie and the panel the first night. So I think it's great that we can fill up the auditorium almost 3,000 seats on science two nights in a row. It says a lot for Arizona I think.

Lawrence Krauss: And it says a lot because people want to know about this stuff. People watch this -- they watch you on YouTube for goodness' sakes because they want to know about it.

Ted Simons: People are interested in science and they're fascinated by it and if we could convince more media to do what we're doing today, I think people want to know what's going on because science is exciting.

Lawrence Krauss: Last question, a minute or so left. Did I read that that meteorite that slammed into the Yucatan was actually a comet instead of a meteorite?

Lawrence Krauss: That could be true. I don't know. We're bombarded by comets all the time and it doesn't matter what it was, it would have created the same type of devastation, it was 10 kilometers across, whether it was a rock or a ball of frozen ice.

Ted Simons: Really doesn't make too much of a difference what it was.

Lawrence Krauss: The heat generated would have been immense.

Ted Simons: Over Russia, the same thing?

Lawrence Krauss: But it never made it to the ground. The thing about Russia, it was maybe 10 tons but 100 tons a day of material fall on earth every day from space. Most of it is so small you don't notice it but every day, 100 tons of material is falling on earth and over the history of the earth, enough water was delivered by comets to have produced all the oceans we think.

Ted Simons: All right.

Lawrence Krauss: Some of it may have produced life, too. We've discovered not only amino acids on comets, but chemical processes.

Ted Simons: Let's do that next time and we'll talk about the film, as well. Good luck with that storytelling.

Lawrence Krauss: I hope you'll come.

Ted Simons: Sounds good.

Lawrence Krauss:Physicist, ASU;

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