BY SAUL GRIFFITH
Making Things Work
The most incredible headline of the year, if something never made before. And we learn that
not the decade, or century, just passed the mastery of two skills — predicting the behavior
through the news wires, largely unnoticed. of machines, and knowing how to build them to the
We, humanity, built the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) right specifications — makes this drug particularly
at CERN, in Switzerland and France. We turned it on. powerful.
It worked. It is testament to the power of our little ape brains,
Why is this the coolest headline of the decade? that we are able not just to control, but to predict ...
It took more than 8,000 physicists from 85 countries and to be right.
to design it and put it together — countless engineers We also start learning to integrate other people’s
and technicians, with countless opportunities for a sub-components and thoughts and ideas into a
mistake to be made, or a number to be miscalculated. product or project. People specialize, and then
It’s a stunning testament to the power of humans engineering teams can be built — things that col-to work together to do something incredibly compli- lectively can build very complex items that are truly
cated. And it worked. astounding when you sit back and look at them.
When I visited early in 2008, it felt like going to A car, any car, represents an amazing amount of
the shrine of technology. It is a machine like no engineering, and the fact that the car will start as
other, a 27km loop of engineered beauty. The mag- it comes off the production line and be a working
nets and sensors fill underground caverns the size machine is quite incredible. An MP3 player or new
of buildings. It’s a magical world of copper, silicon, cellphone is equally amazing in its design and
aluminum, and stainless steel. engineering implementation.
Why does it impress me so, this feat of engineering? As individuals who contribute to the long list of
Probably the first thing that most of us independently science and engineering and design achievements
make is a finger painting, or a stack of wooden that go into any complex thing, we makers find a
blocks we imagine as a castle. It’s where we start in wondrous joy and pride and fulfillment in contribut-this amazing, lifelong process of learning to build ing part of the puzzle.
complex things from simple parts. Steadily, we learn And the Large Hadron Collider is the ultimate
through life to imagine new and ever more complex wondrous expression of all of those skills and desires
things, and how we might make or build them. The to make something new and beautiful that works.
process of building something new and complex It is a Swiss watch of unprecedented precision and
from nothing but an idea is wonderful to me. scale. Oh, how I could wax lyrical. But the story is
I like watching this process at all different scales, even better than everything I’ve written so far.
and I see unbelievable reward on the faces of people Why did we build the LHC at all? It is, in fact, just
who successfully turn their concepts into things a science experiment. But what an experiment!
that work. I know from my own experience that Humans imagined, then designed, and have now
watching something that you’ve conceived actually built a machine conceived to answer the deepest
work as planned is the drug that keeps makers, questions we know how to ask about the physical
scientists, engineers, and artists addicted to what universe around us.
they do. We know that things have mass; they are heavy to
As we grow in skill and expertise, we learn to finish lift. But we actually don’t know why the elementary
things, and to finish them with craftsmanship and particles that comprise matter have mass. This
higher quality. As we grow in knowledge about the incredible machine should be able to tell us why.
physics of the universe and how materials work, we After a few days of operation, a faulty connection
learn to do a very beautiful thing: we learn that by between two magnets triggered a shutdown of the
building models — blueprints, equations on paper, LHC. It will mean a delay (the LHC will be operational
computer simulations, and the like — we can make again in spring 2009, after a winter dormancy), but
26 Make: Volume