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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Large Hadron Collider (LHC) -Supercollisions on the horizon?

The project staggers the imagination: a machine that would stretch 20 miles through the bedrock 400 feet beneath Kane, DuPage and perhaps Will Counties. It could help physicists discover mysterious forces of the universe and new dimensions in the fabric of space and time.
But there are other mysteries to resolve before the first spade is turned for a proposed, multibillion-dollar International Linear Collider scientists hope to center under Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory's Batavia campus.
What would the neighbors think about subatomic particles being fired at nearly the speed of light under west suburban homes, back-yard pools and cornfields? And how to accommodate any criticisms in advance and bring folks onboard?
There's no guarantee the collider -- which experts think could be one of the century's great scientific leaps forward -- will be built. Or that it'll be built in Illinois. Even in the best-case scenario, it will be more than a decade before the first particles fly.
But officials are planning ahead, making sure that what happened about 20 years ago -- when criticism from residents helped doom Fermilab's quest to land a superconducting supercollider -- doesn't happen again.
Fermilab has organized a 24-member ILC Citizens' Task Force to help it plan. The Department of Energy facility has included a wide range of volunteers, from village trustees to the same activists who fought Fermilab's proposed supercollider in the 1980s.
Members are asking questions, offering suggestions and learning about the project firsthand from some of the world's leading physicists and engineers. Their job is to draw up recommendations for the project by early next year so the changes can be incorporated into the design.
All this for an international project Europe and Japan might also compete for and that wouldn't be finished until 2019 at the earliest -- and could take until 2030. The project would employ the equivalent of 2,000 people worldwide during each of the seven years the machine is being built.
If completed, however, the machine would assert Fermilab's position on the frontier of science for decades, employing physicists, engineers and others at the lab after its Tevatron particle accelerator's scheduled shutdown in 2009.
But first, Fermilab wants to win over the neighbors.
In a recent meeting, Dan Lobbes, a task-force member and director of land preservation with the Conservation Foundation, said Fermilab had better prepare itself to answer questions such as, "'Will my kids and my dog get radiated?' Or, 'How will we know we'll get treated fairly?' Or, 'Do we get money if the thing goes under my house?'"
Fermilab officials seem to delight in such bruising questions, nodding and scribbling notes when the interrogation gets tough. They genuinely want to be guided by the public, they say, and it is better to get everything out in the open now -- with informed citizens, not folks spooked by 1950s Godzilla scenarios.
"It's just openness," said Craig Jones, who fought the supercollider and now serves on the task force. "That's what we're talking about -- establishing trust, and treating you like you're something other than some bumpkin from Kane County."
The proposed linear collider could help scientists overcome humankind's humbling ignorance of much of the cosmos. Physicists can only account for 5 percent of the components of the universe. The remaining 95 percent are believed to be dark matter and dark energy, which are invisible but can be detected in the mass and rotational speed of galaxies and galaxy clusters.
The collider would hurl billions of electrons and their antiparticles -- positrons -- toward each other at nearly the speed of light, Fermilab said. The collisions would create new particles that could offer hints about the nature and origin of the universe.
"It's a little bit mind-boggling that to study the smallest particles in the universe, you need the largest machines that mankind has ever built," said Kurt Riesselmann, a Fermilab spokesman.
But there is the problem of where to park a machine that would extend miles beyond the 6,800-acre lab campus.
The collider is so vast and so expensive -- rough estimates start at $6.7 billion -- no single government could afford to build it, Riesselmann said.
An international team is designing it, and the cash would come from many countries. A similar collaboration led to the Geneva-based CERN particle physics laboratory's Large Hadron Collider, scheduled to start up in May 2008.
If Fermilab is chosen for the new collider, it could stir up a hornet's nest of local planning issues. Contractors would bore 44 miles of tunnel -- including a parallel service tunnel -- with a diameter of 15 feet or greater. Thirteen access shafts would be spaced every few miles, and 92 new buildings would have to be built above ground, roughly a third of them off-campus on land Fermilab would acquire.

Task-force member John Carlson of Geneva wanted to know how much blasting would be required."In the Deep Tunnel project, there was a lot of blasting in Chicago, broken windows and that sort of thing," he said. "So I think the objection of the communities will be in the blasting phase."Vic Kuchler, a Fermilab staff member who is part of the collider's global design effort, said most of the tunnels would be drilled, but some blasting would be necessary to create underground rooms and alcoves

Fermilab officials said the machine would meet environmental standards on radiation and other matters. "It's not a nuclear reactor or anything like that," said Riesselmann. The particle collision point would be on Fermilab property, and a power failure would harmlessly shut down the collider, as it does the lab's Tevatron.The surface work could prove more problematic. Fermilab would have to build mini-campuses of an undetermined size where the shafts emerge.Jones, a St. Charles resident who opposed the supercollider in the late 1980s, said the approach now is a far cry from those days. Officials then didn't involve property owners during the design, he said, and were condescending to those who questioned the project.A retired pilot, Jones wrote and distributed a paper disputing the state's claims about the jobs that project would create. He and other opponents undermined it further by gathering 18,000 signatures in opposition.Texas ended up winning the supercollider project, which was later canceled by Congress amid cost overruns.This time, Jones said, Fermilab is going out of its way to listen to citizens. Jones sees his task as not to become an advocate for the linear collider, but to ensure a fair process for the communities it passes under."Am I personally interested in that kind of science?" Jones said. "As a matter of fact, I am. I'm very interested. But I don't want to see people get squashed, having family farms taken and being treated badly, just for the sake of science that I may like."

1 comment:

Blue_Jiva said...

What is the possibility that such a ahead on collision of protons won't create a fusion reaction? Creating Helium , a miniture Sun, evaporating everything around it?

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