One might think LEGO bricks are an American product, but the LEGO company is actually Danish. LEGO is a word created by contracting two Danish words, “leg godt,” that mean “play well.” My sons grew up with LEGO and since their grandparents lived in Denmark, their LEGO collection probably exceeded that of most families in America. The colorful, sturdy, simple yet versatile interlocking design of LEGO pieces, as well as maintenance of exacting quality control in their manufacture, led to their international success. They are made with such high precision that a brick from today will snugly interlock with a brick from the 1960s. With just a few different bricks, an unlimited number of different objects can be constructed (e.g., six bricks of 2 × 4 studs can be combined in 915,103,765 ways2). So far, 400 billion of the iconic bricks have been produced and used to construct hundreds of millions of different objects as well as entire model towns.
Building Blocks of the Universe
But what about constructing a universe? Well, not quite—but what the physical universe has in common with LEGO creations is that it is made up from only a handful of components called fundamental particles. A set of these created in the early universe includes the proton, neutron, and electron. Incredible quality control in their creation was essential to make the universe work. These fundamental particles were used, in turn, to build atoms. The lightest atom, or chemical element, hydrogen, has one proton in its nucleus with one electron orbiting it. Add a proton and neutron to the nucleus and an additional electron and we have helium. Adding additional protons, neutrons, and electrons forms the rest of the periodic table. Most of the chemical elements are forged in stars via nuclear reactions starting from hydrogen. The different elements have a huge range of useful properties. Also, different atoms can combine in chemical reactions to form an enormous variety of molecules with a vast diversity of properties. The key to this ability is the electron. Atoms form bonds with each other by sharing electrons—without electrons, there would be no chemistry. Most of the chemical compounds are found in planets, comets, asteroids, space rocks, and dust which we now know are pervasive throughout the universe and in life-forms found on Earth. Without these atoms and molecules, there would be no planets, no life, no advanced technological society. Without protons, neutrons, and electrons, there would be no atoms.
Quality Control in the Heavens
To build the universe the creation of protons, neutrons, and electrons had to meet five requirements. First, all three had to be created at the very beginning of the universe. Second, they had to be created in a flash of time. Third, there had to be an enormous number of them to build the one billion trillion stars estimated to be in the universe. Fourth, they had to have an incredible lifetime and robustness given that the universe is currently 13.8 billion years old. Fifth, they had to be crafted with incredible precision.
Current scientific understanding of the universe shows that all of these conditions were met. With regard to the first three requirements, according to the big bang model, essentially all of the protons and electrons that exist today were created, incredibly, within the first second of the bang (see the “Hadron epoch”). Scientists estimate that greater than 1080 (1 followed by 80 zeros) protons and electrons were created in this brief period of time. The number of neutrons has a more complex history. Initially, the n/p ratio was close to 1:1, but it rapidly shifted in the first second to 1:6 due to reactions with other subatomic particles. In addition, vast numbers of neutrons were later produced by nucleosynthesis reactions in stars.
Regarding the fourth requirement, the fact that we still have a vast universe crafted from these particles means they both have a lifetime at least greater than the age of the universe, 13.8 billion years. In fact, it’s astonishingly greater. Although no proton decay has ever been observed in experimental studies, one study3 put a minimum limit on its half-life of 1.67×1034 years (that’s 167 followed by 34 zeros). Physicists have also failed to observe even a single decaying electron. The results of one study put an estimate of the lifetime of an electron at greater than 1028 years4.
However, the half-life of a free neutron has been measured and is around 14 minutes. Whoops! Did creation mess up? Hardly. The vast majority of neutrons in the universe are not free. They are strongly bonded to protons by the nuclear strong force in atomic nuclei. In that state, their lifetime is essentially that of protons. In the beginning, the number of protons created was adequate to bind all of the neutrons needed to assemble all of the stable elements in the periodic table in sufficient abundance for building planets and sustaining complex life on earth. Thus, the lifetimes of the three particles are far beyond the estimated lifetime of the universe.
Finally, let’s look at the precision of properties of the particles. The precision of properties must be extremely high, otherwise the properties of atoms would vary as well as their chemistry, leading to an unstable universe. Certainly, life would be impossible if the chemistry of life varied unpredictably. Actually, the size and precision of the proton has been measured.5 The proton radius was been found to be 0.833 x 10-17 cm with a precision of 0.010 x 10-17 cm. The precision of radii of protons is likely even greater since this is the precision of the measurement. By comparison with human engineering, high quality ball bearings with a diameter of 0.020 cm can be machined with a precision in diameter of 8 x 10-6 cm. Thus, protons were created with a size precision at least 100 billion times better than modern technology can machine ball bearings. Furthermore, protons don’t wear out like ball bearings do, even after 13.8 billion years.
A Builder beyond Compare
This stunning feat of production, with incredible quality control of immense numbers of ultra-tiny particles from which the universe was built, is something out of this world. Nothing less than a transcendent supreme Creator and Engineer can account for this marvel.
- Svend Thaning, “The Math Professor Plays with Lego Bricks,” University of Copenhagen, The Faculty of Science and Life Sciences, December 10, 2013, science.ku.dk/presse/nyhedsarkiv/2013/leger-med-lego-klodser/.
- “Lego,” Wikipedia, last modified January 3, 2021, wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego.
- Borut Bajc et al., “Threshold Corrections to Dimension-Six Proton Decay Operators in Non-Minimal SUSY SU(5) GUTs,” Nuclear Physics B 910 (September 2016): 1, doi:10.1016/j.nuclphysb.2016.06.017.
- Agostini et al., “Test of Electric Charge Conservation with Borexino,”, Phys Review Letters 115 (December 2015): 231802, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.115.231802.
- Bezginov et al., “A Measurement of the Atomic Hydrogen Lamb Shift and the Proton Charge Radius,” Science 365, no. 6457 (September 2019): 1007–12, doi:10.1126/science.aau7807.