The Blue Raccoon

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider
The majesty of quarks, the glory of Higg's Boson

"Is that a super conducting super collider, or are you just glad to see me?"
Here, from 2004, is Maria Spiropulu at Collider Point 5/CMS within CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and this part of it is somewhere under France. She wrote in postcard fashion then, "I just moved recently from the now highest energy machine in the world — the Tevatron at Fermilab — and there is a change in the scale of things. If what I knew I called grand this is brobdingnagian."

And you just got to love a girl who a) Handles heavy machinery capable of smashing atoms together at a high velocity to blast the fat off matter to reveal the lattice underneath, b) can use brobdingnagian correctly in a sentence, c) once played drums in a band called Drug Sniffing Dogs and d) can kickbox.

Spiropulu is one of the immense brains behind the experiments that are gonna tear. your. playhouse. down. And that's gooood thing. Oh, yessss.

Billion-eyed audience, I say politics, schmolitiks, the fix is in, the game is rigged, we're all screwed, including the obstreperous fixers and devious riggers. Politics, important as they are at a local level, are otherwise transient structures. What matters in the long haul is art and science.

And with the Hadron Super Collider, we get the whole enchillada; brains, beauty and an effort to bring the origin of the universe into view. What it'll all mean is anybody's guess.

But the superstitious and the conspiracy-minded somehow think this is going to end in a titanic maelstrom of destruction. These people stay up way too late watching movies on cable. They are kind of like believers in Rapture; the Second Coming as made by Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg.

What it is is, is one of the most remarkable achievements of humanity on Earth to date.

Quoting from the May 15, 2007 New York Times:

"Starting sometime next summer if all goes to plan, subatomic particles will begin shooting around a 17-mile underground ring stretching from the European Center for Nuclear Research, or Cern, near Geneva, into France and back again — luckily without having to submit to customs inspections.

Crashing together in the bowels of Atlas and similar contraptions spaced around the ring, the particles will produce tiny fireballs of primordial energy, recreating conditions that last prevailed when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

Whatever forms of matter and whatever laws and forces held sway Back Then — relics not seen in this part of space since the universe cooled 14 billion years ago — will spring fleetingly to life, over and over again in all their possible variations, as if the universe were enacting its own version of the “Groundhog Day” movie. If all goes well, they will leave their footprints in mountains of hardware and computer memory."

A question the Times article does not answer is whether the CERN commissary is called the Hadron Supper Collider. No mention of that.

For about the next month they are cooling the collider down to minus 271 degrees in preparation for switching on the power to make those atoms spin around and slam dance their way to discovery.

One shouldn't get one's hopes up, though. The results of this experiment, 13 years in the making, won't be known for quite some time. I think it's a bit like looking for extraterrestrial life. Whatever's going to happen will take a while. With energies this high, and subatomic particles being...well, subatomic, creating these fundamental conditions won't be easy. And whatever is found will bring with it some surprises, to be sure.

A reasoned assessment of the LHC is worth repeating here, via poster at The Register.
The sky is falling!
By Flocke Kroes
Posted Tuesday 24th June 2008 13:02 GMT

If financial experts say "there has never been a significant collapse in the financial sector and we don't expect one now" then it is because the expect to make a profit from saying that.

Nuclear PR flacks might have said "there has never been a significant loss of life nuclear incident worth worrying about," but they if they did, they would clearly have been lying (Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Chernobyl).

Reports of leaks at Windscale used to be a regular event, but after they changed the name to Sellafield, the reports slowed down and stopped. The fire in the core of Windscale Pile Number 1 was caused by design flaws. Nuclear engineers will not make those mistakes again.

The Three Mile Island incident released more radiation into the environment, but no deaths were attributed to it. Sickness was attributed to stress caused by reports on the accident (The reports were more frightening than the ones for Windscale.)

Chernobyl caused about 35 times more fallout than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It caused about 50 direct deaths and around 9000 deaths from cancer. These numbers are very political. You could get different numbers from other sources.

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island incidents both involved running reactors that were not ready for operation. Perhaps we should delay building nuclear power plants until electricity is rationed, then build a dozen plants in a rush.

The Earth has not been eaten by vacuum bubbles, black holes or strangelets yet, even though it has been around for a few billion years. The Earth is made out of material ejected form super nova explosions. These explosions are far more powerful than LHC. If you are trying to say LHC is not safe, you first have to explain why LHC could cause a problem that supernovas have not.

If LHC could make vacuum bubbles with different rules of physics that grow without limit, then supernovas would have done this and we would not exist.
If miniature black holes did not evaporate promptly, then the Earth would be a black hole, not a planet.

If strangelets could convert normal matter into strange matter, the Earth would be made of strange matter caused by strangelets from supernovas.

If a theory is not consistent with the results of previous experiments, then the theory is wrong.

If the LHC is spending tax dollars on saying "LHC is safe" it is because they have to counter the silly law suit started by the modern day Chicken Lickens Walter L Wagner and Luis Sancho. I hope these two will meet the modern equivalent of Foxy Loxy and have to pay some extra taxes to make up for the waste they have caused."
You can find out more about the Large Hadron Collider at its very own home site, here. A National Geographic piece with the provocative and reductive headline (which headlines are supposed to be, to get you to read) "The God Particle," referring to the theorized Higg's Boson, is here.

Theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, is an atheist, by the way, and his original name for his speculative particle when he conjectured the thing during a 1964 walk in the Scottish mountains was the "Goddamn Particle" because of its being so difficult to imagine, much less find.

Image credits: Top, via, second, with guy in over alls -- I grabbed this so long ago, don't know; Maria in billed cap, via the New York Times, photographer Lloyd DeGrane; emerging from the transporter chamber? -- don't know; peering into the distnat past -- and you,

Soon to be a major motion picture:

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