Science writer and broadcaster Simon Singh has this to say:
I have been asked this question several times over the last few weeks, or more specifically I have been asked why is the LHC important? For me, the LHC represents science in its purest form, so a justification of the LHC probably works as a justification for science in general.
The Large Hadron Collider will attempt to answer all sorts of questions over the next decade. Does the Higgs boson exist and does it explain the mystery of mass? Can we find super-symmetric particles, otherwise known as sparticles? Can we create mini black holes? Is there evidence of extra dimensions? What were the forces at work in the moments after the Big Bang?
All of this is important because it builds on a tradition that dates back to before the Ancient Greeks. Humans have always wondered what the world around us is made of, and it is the clearest illustration of our curiosity. Being curious and addressing scientific questions is what makes us human.
I realise that many people will doubt the value of pure of science and raise all sorts of nit-picking questions. What is the point of pure science? How will it affect me? Is it good value for money?
Personally, I find all those questions to be irrelevant, because striving to understand our universe should already be sufficient justification. For the doubters, however, particle physics can cope with any criticism because it can also deliver when it comes to developing new technologies, affecting lives and benefiting society.
If we go back one hundred years to the discovery of the electron, the first truly fundamental particle to be identified, even physicists doubted that it would be useful and they offered a toast at the annual Cavendish Laboratory dinner: ”The electron: may it never be of use to anybody.”
Today, almost every major technology depends on our understanding of the electron, from the laptop that I am typing on to the light bulb that allows me to see it.
More recently, medical imaging has benefited as a result of developments in particle physics. In fact, PET scans depend on exploiting antimatter to image our bodies, which demonstrates how even the most exotic of particles can help save lives. Most famously, the world wide web was invented at CERN in order to help physicists communicate across globe. The financial, social and cultural benefits of the world wide web alone more than justify the cost of CERN over of the last half a century. And similar spin-offs in the future will justify the £2.6 billion price tag of the LHC.
And finally, if you still have doubts about the amount of money invested in the LHC, then consider the popular pint-of-beer argument, which effectively quashes any criticism. The £2.6 bn is spread across several years and many countries, and this means that each adult in the UK spends less than £1 per year or less than the price of a pint of beer to sustain the LHC. For that paltry amount we are given in return an opportunity to develop extraordinary new technologies and to answer the deepest questions about the nature of the universe.