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Category Archives: Physics

Well it seems as though we all made it through the first firing the of the Large Hadron Collider.  But before we get complacent, we still have one more hurdle.  They still haven’t actually done any colliding yet.   The beams circulating through the LHC today were only going in one direction, meaning no chance of a collision.   While this isn’t a particularly important point to most people, it is for those who afraid of CERN’s new particle accelerator.   I’ve read estimates on CERN’s site that the first collision may be as early as October.  But who knows.

Looks like we have months more to wait before the “real” threat of the LHC occurs.  One can only wonder how long before we hear forecasts of death by mini-black hole, and it will occur.   As with any of these theories, the proponents never seem to go away, at least in my opinion.   So we will probably be hearing from them up to, and even after, the first collisions. The beauty of the situation is that even if nothing happened last time, there’s always the chance that things may be different. Irrational fear is just that, why would reason change anything? On a side note, it’s all well and good to joke, but the “threat” of simply turning on the LHC elicited death threats. One can’t help but wonder, perhaps somewhat morbidly, what the knowledge that CERN is actually going to do something unique with their new toy will cause.

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The end of the world is nigh, or so they say. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Large Hadron Collider’s career and, more specifically, it’s search for the oft mentioned Higgs boson, a particle so stupendously amazing that some jerk called it the “god particle”. The Large Hadron Collider, LHC, is a particle accelerator, the biggest yet created. It spans the border between France and Switzerland and features a circular tunnel with a circumference of 27km buried at depths ranging between 50 and 175m. The LHC is unique from the other existing particle accelerators in it’s power. Scientific American puts the LHC into perspective by describing just how much of a, if you’ll pardon me, quantum leap this accelerator is when compared with even the most powerful accelerator to date.

Outline of the Large Hadron Collider, via flickr

Outline of the Large Hadron Collider, via flickr

“It starts by producing proton beams of far higher energies than ever before. Its nearly 7,000 magnets, chilled by liquid helium to less than two kelvins to make them superconducting, will steer and focus two beams of protons traveling within a millionth of a percent of the speed of light. Each proton will have about 7 TeV of energy—7,000 times as much energy as a proton at rest has embodied in its mass, courtesy of Einstein’s E = mc2. That is about seven times the energy of the reigning record holder, the Tevatron collider at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. Equally important, the machine is designed to produce beams with 40 times the intensity, or luminosity, of the Tevatron’s beams. When it is fully loaded and at maximum energy, all the circulating particles will carry energy roughly equal to the kinetic energy of about 900 cars traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, or enough to heat the water for nearly 2,000 liters of coffee.”

But while the LHC is easily in a league of it’s own in terms of it’s power, it is also unique for it’s delays, as well as the fear it has created in the minds of some people. A small group of people have been railing against the LHC, due to the belief that it will cause the end of the universe. The folks over at CERN, the organization in charge of the LHC, have attempted to allay those fears along with the rest of the scientific community. Unfortunately, as a result of the LHC approaching it’s start, some researchers have found themselves the targets of death threats.

Considering all of the hype, and fear, produced by the LHC it is only natural to ask what the potential payoff is. After all, it’s all well and good to parrot lines about the Higgs boson, but what does it really mean. In the end, the LHC offers us a unique opportunity to understand how our universe works at the most fundamental level we know. The true answer is that there is no clear idea of what will be found once the LHC is up, and running at full capacity. The clearest target is, of course, the Higgs boson, but other targets include gravity, and even dark matter. Most important of all, however, is the effect that the LHC might have upon the Standard Model of particle physics.

Atlas particle detector, via flickr

Atlas particle detector, via flickr

Any of the above findings would be enormous in confirming more of the Standard Model, especially finding the Higgs particle. Yet, one can’t help but consider what the lack of such a discovery might mean. If the Higgs particle isn’t found, there is the potential to overturn the Standard Model of particle physics. As Stephen Hawkins pointed out, “I think it will be much more exciting if we don’t find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again.” It is those moments when things fail that are the most exciting. Failure indicates a deeper truth to be found and more to learn.

No matter how exciting it is to contemplate the potential advances which may come about from the Large Hadron Collider, it’s always useful to remember that science is slow. Tomorrow’s start up merely marks the very beginning. The LHC will only be testing out it’s equipment, merely calibrating. Even if things go well, results most likely won’t be out for a while, up to several months if equipment must be repaired. It’s only the beginning, but who can’t help but be excited at the prospect’s ahead for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider?

Oh, and just in case you’re worried you can always check to make sure you’re alright.

Scientific American, “Large Hadron Collider: The Discovery Machine”

Physorg.com, “Hawkings bets CERN mega-machine won’t find God particle”

Large Hadron Collider, http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/