One of the mysteries confronting humankind has been figuring out how the European Organisation for Nuclear Research got the name ‘CERN’. Going by usual practice, the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire would have been OERN, not CERN. But in the fascinatingly strange world of quantum physics nomenclature, ‘CERN’ is the conflation of the name of the original council that set up, well, CERN: Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research). The name has since stuck like gluon interactions that bind protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms.
Such semantically-driven PR operations are just part of the arsenal that scientists and scientific fund-raisers use to convince a general public uninterested in science — unless, of course, it can come up with a better version of the iPhone — that expensive experiments like the one involving the Large Hadron Collider conducted on Tuesday at CERN have a purpose.
Tell the public that by smashing sub-atomic particles one can recreate the beginnings of the universe and thereby explain the existence of mass (a remarkably rare entity in the universe), and you’re likely to get a stifled yawn. Tell them that you may get proof of the existence of the ‘God particle’ -- the legendary ‘Higgs-Boson particle’, named after physicists Peter Higgs and Satyendra Nath Bose — and they may just sit up. It’s not too different from politics. To unlock a great human endeavour, you got to sell the mob some shiny trinkets.