Traditionally, the world of science has ignored Spain. Ramón y Cajal almost had to create a personal campaign, researcher by researcher, in order to explain to them the nature of his discoveries in the field of neuroscience. It was nothing but his personal tenacity the ultimate reason why he won the Nobel award. The international scientific community tends to look down on Spanish speaking countries and to silence their discoveries.
Though, the Spanish inventiveness is more than remarkable and tends to sharpen in times of deep economical crisis. Despite the lack of economical resources, creativity replaces money by far. This is the example shown by the SWINE (Spanish Watcher Institute for New Energies). That center was quite promising after it was inaugurated by the King of Spain and the president of the local Autonomous Community. Both of them achieved a remarkable number of reports and photos in the official media and stated to be “proud and satisfied” because it was a huge boost for national science.
However, recently the Spanish government lowered the staff’s salaries to the level of an intern working part-time without paid vacations. Just like that, the government lowered the budget so now it’s a hundredth part of the original one, and moved its facilities to a small village surrounded by mountains where modern Internet connections are not available, electricity cut-offs are frequent and water comes from wells and must be sanitized prior to consume it in order to avoid the endemic measles and pests.
Nevertheless, the scientific team didn’t lose hope and instead they decided to carry on collaborating with cutting-edge experiments in the field of particle physics, both because they loved their careers and because that work could drive them to find a decent job elsewhere abroad, enough to allow them to buy some decent clothing and to be able to cook their own food instead on relying on villagers’ charity.
The clever idea they had was using alternative particles instead of protons in order to explore the latter nature of energy, matter, the quantum universe and the Higgs field. Due to the impossibility of reaching relativistic speeds, a workaround was to experiment with slow speeds.
Classical mechanics can be used under those circumstances. It defines kinetic energy as E=(1/2)mv^2, where energy is measured in Joules, mass in kilograms and speed in meters per second.
The average mass of an insect like a common fly is about 10 milligrams, and flies can reach speeds up to 10Km/h. By doing a simple calculation:
(1/2) * 0.00001Kg * (2.7778m/s)^2 = 0.0000386 Joules
By converting the units, it means about 240TeV. Having in account the maximum energy available at CERN is about 7TeV when using full power (and it won’t happen until 2014) we can easily imagine the big potential of a fly to experiment with high energy levels.
The area where the SWINE is located, next to a pestilent lake, makes it very easy to collect flies. Flies are collected in a jar and are annoyed by shaking the jar furiously. Once they go mad, they’re freed into a cloud chamber –fog is natural thanks to the wet cold bleak damn weather inside their facilities- and they begin to angrily fly all over the chamber. From time to time, researchers detect two flies colliding.
Ángel María de los Santos, SWINE’s CEO, explains it clearly: “flies are both macroscopic objects and quantum particles, which is really convenient indeed: just observe flies at home. It is impossible to know where they are and their speed at the same time. Trying to catch them is just crazy because it’s impossible to determine their position and speed at the same time. Well, that uncertainty matches the definition of a quantum wave function. Besides you don’t have to fear a doomsday black hole -as some pessimistic people claimed about CERN- instead the only thing that will come up from time to time are botflies (but they’ve got a huge mass so they decay in a couple of days) and green flies, that are disgusting but won’t do any significant harm.”
Researchers carefully review the results of each collision. Without the assistance of modern computers to register the virtual particles’ traces after each crash, the Spanish inventiveness overcomes that challenge, as explained by Ángel: “we’ve got a young boy working for us. Before becoming a researcher he was keen to painting. He watches each collision and looks for the traces very quickly. Then he paints them on a squared paper –in order to achieve more accuracy-, more or less in the same positions he saw them, by using crayons.
So far they’ve been able to confirm the discoveries related to the Higgs boson achieved by the CERN and Fermilab, so they’re the third source to assess those experiments. We talked to Rolf Dieter Heuer, CERN’s CEO, and he admitted it: “The truth is that we find it embarrassing to ask for the assistance of our Spanish colleagues and we usually hide that information in our official reports and papers, but if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t have any idea about the actual existence of the Higgs boson. Their contributions have been critical, and, well, anyhow we’ll try to help them to come here to work next year once we’ve got a budget available for it”. A member of the FermiLab staff didn’t want to reveal his name but he kindly revealed his thoughts: “I’ve never seen such a bunch of idiots like the ones in the government of Spain. You’re running straight down to a second Stone Age. It seems you guys were voting for the dumbest fools in your country”.
We hope this document will help to claim the fundamental but hidden contribution of Spain to the world of science, a field of research that’s changing the way we see and understand the Universe.