Michio Kaku
Professor of Theoretical Physics, CUNY

“An Atom Smasher in the Garage”

“An Atom Smasher in the Garage”

Thanks to a myopic Congress, the U.S. now lags behind Europe in particle physics research. If only our politicians were as enterprising as the young Michio Kaku, who tried to build a homemade supercollider.

Michio Kaku

Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.


Question: How could the existence of hyperspace be definitively proven?

Michio Kaku: The idea of hyperspace. The idea of higher dimensions, unseen universes beyond length, width, and height, is not just idle dinner table conversation. We're not spending over $10 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, an atom smasher outside Geneva, Switzerland. Now, when I was a kid, I have my first taste of atom smashing because when I was a kid, I decided to do a Science Fair project. First of all, I was working with anti-matter in high school, photographing brilliant tracks of anti-matter inside my magnetic field that I built. Then one day, I wanted to create my own beam of anti-matter. Not just photograph it, but actually manipulate it.

So, I went to my mom one day and I said, "Mom, can I have permission to build a 2.3 million volt atom smasher betatronic accelerator in my garage?" And she kind of stared at me and said, "An atom smasher in the garage? I mean, sure. Why not? And don't forget to take out the garbage." So, I took out the garbage and I went to Westinghouse and I got 400 pounds of transformer steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and we wound a 6 kilowatt, 10,000 gauss magnetic field on the high school football field. I put 22 pounds of copper wire on the goal post, gave the wire to my mother. My mother ran to the 50-yard line, gave the wire to my father and he ran to the goal post, and we wound 22 miles of copper wire on the high school football field. Finally, it was ready. It was my proudest achievement, this 400 pound, 6 kw, 10,000 gauss magnetic field in a 2.3 million volt electronic accelerator.

I closed my eyes, I plugged my ears, I plugged in the wall socket into the garage circuit, and I heard this pop, pop, pop sound as I blew out every single circuit breaker in the house. Wow! My poor mom. She had come back from a hard day's work to see all the lights flicker and die. And then she would say, "Where's the fuses?"

Well, I imagine that my mother would say to herself, "Why couldn't I have a son who plays basketball? Maybe if I buy him a baseball, and for God's sake, why can't he find a nice Japanese girlfriend? Why does he build these machines in the garage?" Well that machine was an atom smasher. And now the biggest atom smasher of all time is being built outside Geneva, Switzerland. It is 17 miles in circumference. You need a car to actually go around this gigantic device. And it will help recreate a piece of creation.

Well, some people ask the question, why are the European countries building the Large Hadron Collider? Are we losing the edge? What about an American machine. Well, hey. Let's be frank about it. We had our chance and we blew it. Back in the 1990's, President Ronald Reagan and others had a vision. Why not create the largest colossal atom smasher outside the city of Dallas. Well everything was all set, funding was initiated, but in 1993 the machine was cancelled. A machine, a supercollider many times bigger then the Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland.

Well, what happened? Many things happened, but on the last day of hearings in Congress, one Congressman asked a physicist, "Are we going to find God with your machine? If so, I will vote for it." Well, the poor physicist didn't know what to say. So, he collected his thoughts and said, "We will find the Higgs Boson." Well, you could almost hear all the jaws hit the floor of the United States Congress. $11 billion for another goddamned sub-atomic particle. Well, the role was taken a few days later and the machine was cancelled. Congress gave us $1 billion to dig this gigantic hole in the ground outside Dallas, they cancelled the machine, and they gave us a second billion dollars to fill up the hole. I can't think of anything more stupid than giving us $2 billion to dig a hole and to fill it up again. But hey, that's the government.

Well, since then, we physicists have been racking our brains asking ourselves the question, what should we have said? This will happen again. Our NSF budgets, our science budgets, our Department of Energy budgets. All of them will depend on the taxpayers. So, what should we have said? Well, I don't know. But I would have said the following. I would have said, "God, by whatever signs or symbols you ascribe to the deity, this machine, the supercollider will take us as close as humanly possible to his, or her, greatest creation and that is, genesis. This is a Genesis Machine. It will recreate, on a microscopic scale, perhaps the most glorious event in the history of the universe. Its birth." Unfortunately, we said, "Higgs Boson." So, our machine was cancelled and America is no longer on the cutting edge of the most basic research in physics.

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