Saturday, September 6, 2008

large hadron collider - the big bad boom!

this wednesday, september 10, 2008, is an exciting day, as the large hadron collider (LHC) at CERN in geneva, switzerland will be run to its full capacity for the first time! some are calling it beam day, while others prefer big bang day. call it what you want, it's certain that people from all around the world are on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the potential results of this experiment! some are so excited, that they've created an LHC rap...

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.

the LHC is a huge particle accelerator which will generate beams of protons and collide them into each at great speeds in order to create very high energies, and to see what resulting particles they can detect! protons are particles that fit under the more general heading of hadrons. hadrons are atomic particles made up of smaller particles called quarks. protons are made up of 3 quarks: 2 ‘up’ quarks and 1 ‘down’ quark. protons are advantageous to use for the LHC because they have an electric charge (positive), which allows them to be steered around quite controllably by large magnets! you start with hydrogen atoms (hydrogen is one proton with one electron swooping around it), strip off the electrons so you only have protons left, then accelerate the protons with gigantic magnets and slam them into each other! fun stuff!

we want to look at such high energies, because other places in the universe have really high energies. for example, the centers of stars are incredibly energetic. we can study them pretty well by matching our theories to what light and other particles come out of stars, but we cannot generate similar energies on earth.

the LHC experiment will create energies 7 times higher than any previous experiments on earth, and will attempt to answer deeper questions about the nature of the material we find in the universe. like what is gravity? what happened in the big bang? what happened just after the big bang, but before the cosmic microwave background radiation was emitted? why do some particles have mass, but not all particles? what the heck is dark matter?

and please, please don't worry.... the LHC will NOT destroy the planet!!!

here's a visually pleasing and informative tour of the LHC by dr. brian cox:

of course xkcd has a great comic about the big day:

you can also check out an interactive game at explaining how the large hadron collider experiment thinks it could detect the higgs boson - HERE.

even with all this exciting attention, dont expect definitive results to cover the front pages of world newspapers within 24 hours of wednesday's experiment. once data is collected, it will take at least a month to analyze and double check all the details. it took many many many years to produce this most complicated machinery, let's have collective patience to allow scientists to properly reduce the data and determine reliable results!!!

UPDATE: for more about the safety and perceived potential hazards of LHC, go HERE and/or read the full analysis from the LHC Safety Assessment Group: HERE.


David Gerard said...

My theory is that the LHC is Dr Evil holding the world to RANSOM!

Reggie said...

I'm still not entirely clear, if they turn the thing on and it DOES destroy Mankind, are we s'posed to presume this as a BAD thing???

Anonymous said...

Man's technology has exceeded his grasp. - 'The World is not Enough'
Zealous Nobel Prize hungry Physicists are racing each other and stopping at nothing to try to find the supposed 'Higgs Boson'(aka God) Particle, among others, and are risking nothing less than the annihilation of the Earth and all Life in endless experiments hoping to prove a theory when urgent tangible problems face the planet. The European Organization for Nuclear Research(CERN) new Large Hadron Collider(LHC) is the world's most powerful atom smasher that will soon be firing subatomic particles at each other at nearly the speed of light to create Miniature Big Bangs producing Micro Black Holes, Strangelets and other potentially cataclysmic phenomena.
Particle physicists have run out of ideas and are at a dead end forcing them to take reckless chances with more and more powerful and costly machines to create new and never-seen-before, unstable and unknown matter while Astrophysicists, on the other hand, are advancing science and knowledge on a daily basis making new discoveries in these same areas by observing the universe, not experimenting with it and with your life.
The LHC is a dangerous gamble as CERN physicist Alvaro De Rújula in the BBC LHC documentary, 'The Six Billion Dollar Experiment', incredibly admits quote, "Will we find the Higgs particle at the LHC? That, of course, is the question. And the answer is, science is what we do when we don't know what we're doing." And CERN spokesmodel Brian Cox follows with this stunning quote, "the LHC is certainly, by far, the biggest jump into the unknown."
The CERN-LHC website Mainpage itself states: "There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions,..." Again, this is because they truly don't know what's going to happen. They are experimenting with forces they don't understand to obtain results they can't comprehend. If you think like most people do that 'They must know what they're doing' you could not be more wrong. Some people think similarly about medical Dr.s but consider this by way of comparison and example from JAMA: "A recent Institute of Medicine report quoted rates estimating that medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people a year in US hospitals." The second part of the CERN quote reads "...but what's for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator,..." A molecularly changed or Black Hole consumed Lifeless World? The end of the quote reads " knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe." These experiments to date have so far produced infinitely more questions than answers but there isn't a particle physicist alive who wouldn't gladly trade his life to glimpse the "God particle", and sacrifice the rest of us with him. Reason and common sense will tell you that the risks far outweigh any potential(as CERN physicists themselves say) benefits.
This quote from National Geographic exactly sums this "science" up: "That's the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out."
Find out more about that "stuff" below;
Popular Mechanics - "World's Biggest Science Project Aims to Unlock 'God Particle'" -" said...

I've Got Einstein on my Mind
by Jim Purdy

Listen to me one and all, Oh dear,
For bad news I bring, The End is Near.

In the UK, the Daily Mail tried to clue us in,
That those mad scientists are going to do us in.

Yes indeed, they have published a news article
Warning us of a runaway sub-atomic particle.

The Large Hadron Collider is to blame,
And our universe will soon end in flame.

Oh man, the fireworks will be spectacular,
It'll be so big, I won't need my binocular.

As the end nears, some may grieve and mourn,
But I'll enjoy the show, just eating my popcorn.

Someday I'll entertain grandkids with the story I'll tell,
Oh. Wait. I guess I won't have any grandkids, oh well.

In college, we laughed at those physics dorks,
Always talking about their tachyons and quarks.

Yes, soon the world will be gone, we'll be no more,
Thanks to guys named Fermi, Heisenberg and Bohr.

So, as I await the end of all mankind,
I've got Albert Einstein on my mind.

Unknown said...

wow. i must say this post has generated quite interesting reactions so far! the only problem is that i'm having difficulties with my sarcasm-o-meter!

JTankers said...

High energy collisions are probably months away. If dangerous particles are created there will likely be no noticeable effects for years, decades or centuries.

The only cure for micro black hole cancer is not to create slow moving micro black holes on Earth in the first place.

CERN arrogantly ignores senior German Physics PHD Rainer Plaga's requests to discuss and follow feasible risk mitigation procedures including SLOW DOWN.[1]

Misrepresenting safety as a certainty and denigrating the safety opposition is not professional, not ethical and not reasonable.

Don't get small, get!

[1] On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders - Rainer Plaga Rebuttal (2008)

Unknown said...

as pointed out at the end of the post, thorough safety analyses have been conducted more than once.

i am convinced, as are many, many, many , many others, including contributions from over 10,000 scientists and monetary advancements from 85 countries, that there is no need to spread unnecessary and unfounded fear.

sure, let's investigate *all* the possibilites, and we have (see above)!!!! now let's just sit back and enjoy what we can accomplish.

JTankers said...

How many physicists believed the shuttle Challenger would explode when it launched in freezing weather?

Out of the hundreds of physicists involved, only a few understood the physics well enough to state they could not calculate reasonable safety and protest the launch.

Mother Nature follows her own laws weather we understand them or not.

Unfortunately the number of physicists that can accurately calculate safety of the LHC is exactly zero.

The safety opposition is honest about this fact, CERN is not.

Unknown said...

cant say it any better, so i'll refer everyone to this:

"What I would say is that it is not sensible to hold an opinion in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whilst I understand that much of the language of particle physics is opaque, there does come a time when it is worth accepting the views of experts. The analogy I would give is the design of aircraft wings - I am happy to trust an expert in aerodynamics to get it right rather than offer my own opinion about what shape they should be. It’s really the case that the particle physics community are sensible, rational human beings who go about their research because they believe that exploring the subatomic world is good for our civilization, not to mention interesting. It is also true that if anyone, including myself, had any doubt about the safety of what we are doing, we would stop immediately. I and all my colleagues consider our personal safety and the safety of our families to be FAR more important than the search for the Higgs particle - indeed, if the risk were even as high as 1 in a billion, or whatever people quote, then I would be campaigning with you to stop it.

But honestly - the case advanced against the LHC is based on the rather loud pronouncements of a couple of people who really do not have the knowledge to make them. This “jtankers” chap who posts all over the place began one statement claiming that we collide particles together at twice the speed of light, and Otto Rossler, whilst clearly a distinguished biochemist, has based his argument on a pretty basic error in General Relativity. Now I am not criticizing these gentlemen for offering an opinion, but wisdom comes from noticing when ones opinion is disproved by evidence. This is the key to science.

So, in summary - I support this forum as a place where skeptical voices can be raised, but skepticism must go hand in hand with rationality. When theories are shown to be false, the correct thing to do is to move on.

Brian Cox."

Anonymous said...

Well said, Brian Cox. In case there are people who are still worried that two people without expertise in the relevant fields have raised (mutually exclusive) doomsday scenarios, while all of the people with expertise have ruled the danger out, I invite you to read my post Large Hadron Collider: What's the Risk?, which provides a little background on the "big gun" critics Plaga and Rössler.

Anonymous said...

Brian Cox says that colliders are "known" to be safe. He has an Aristotelian epistemology.

Toby Ord presented at the Future of Humanity conference at Oxford saying that the probability that physics is wrong is higher than the very low probabilities supposedly computed by some using existing physics. This is not just theoretical. It has happened several times.

In 1999, the safety report for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven said that black hole creation required energy beyond the reach of any collider. This turned out to be less than "known." At about the same time, some string theorists published new theory that predicted black hole production at colliders (if their theories are true.)

In 2003, the first CERN safety report for the LHC anticipated black hole production, but said that black holes would dissipate via Hawking radiation. This turned out to be less than "known." At about the same time, physics papers appeared that questioned the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation, a radiation that has never been observed.

The methodology of the recent CERN safety report is far from best practices in risk management. Among other things, best practices requires consultation of specialists from diverse relevant disciplines. The CERN report was authored exclusively by physicists with various associations with CERN. There were no risk management specialists and no astronomers, the latter relevant since a key safety factor invoked observational data on neutron stars and white dwarf stars. There was no attempt to use red team/blue team methodology, suggested by several authors as appropriate for these very political "safety reports," a tradition apparently implemented only when forced by outside criticism. Nevertheless, Michelangelo Mangano, a key author and spokesperson, took seriously many criticisms of previous studies that had been ignored by others, went beyond those criticisms to develop new safety factors, and in general appears to have done a good job. However, is it appropriate to rubber stamp the results of this highly political process, despite current objections of reputable scientists and with no further vetting, as "known?"