Infinity is, by definition, a concept difficult for us puny humans to wrap our minds around. Maybe that’s why it’s been a perennial favorite of sci-fi and pulp fiction. Marvel fans of course are familiar with the Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet. But over at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland, scientists have built a real, working “Infinity machine.” And as cool as it really is, it’s far more mundane than the sci-fi-ish name would lead you to believe — which is either fortunate or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it.
CERN’s Infinity machine was actually completed and installed in its Metrology lab several years ago, and has been doing its job ever since. It’s basically an extremely precise measuring tool, designed to check the sensitivity of the components CERN uses in its high-energy particle experiments. It’s so precise it can measure with a “precision of 0.3 micrometres (μm), around 300 times smaller than the width of a human hair,” according to CERN. In particular, the Infinity machine was built to help measure components for the proposed Compact Linear Collider, a new particle accelerator that would smash together different types particles than the existing Large Hadron Collider. Today, CERN shared a photo on its official Instagram of the Infinity machine hard at work. Take a look:
If you’re not blown away, that’s okay — neither was I! But the photo serves as a great reminder that some of the most advanced scientific research in the world is made possible with highly specialized, finicky, unassuming equipment, steadily plugging away while we’re all going about our lives. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.