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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New age in Physics

Switzerland -- It is the biggest machine ever built. Everyone says it looks like a movie set for a corny James Bond villain. They are correct. The machine is attended by brainiacs wearing hard hats and running around on catwalks. They are looking for the answer to the question: Where does everything in the universe come from? Price tag: $8 billion plus.

The world's largest particle accelerator is buried deep in the earth beneath herds of placid dairy cows grazing on the Swiss-French border. The thing has been under construction for years, like the pyramids. Its centerpiece is a circular 17-mile tunnel that contains a pipe swaddled in supermagnets refrigerated to crazy-low temperatures, colder than deep space.

The idea is to set two beams of protons traveling in opposite directions around the tunnel, redlining at the speed of light, generating wicked energy that will mimic the cataclysmic conditions at the beginning of time, then smashing into each other in a furious re-creation of the Big Bang -- this time recorded by giant digital cameras.

On Wednesday, they fired this sucker up
It will be months before the proton beams reach full power and produce the kinds of exotic collisions that may herald an age of "new physics." But if the machine works -- this most ambitious, expensive, technologically advanced civilian scientific experiment in history -- it would be a happening for humanity.

"I think we may have to rewrite our textbooks," said Fabiola Gianotti, a project leader for ATLAS, one of the four huge detectors that will record and analyze the collisions. "There must be something more than we have seen. There is something missing from the puzzle."

The Large Hadron Collider, as it is called by the 8,000 scientists, engineers and technicians from 85 countries who dote on it, will probe the most fundamental mysteries. From the fireballs, there might spring forth black holes and the elusive thing that gives matter its mass. Or not! There might be particles called "strangelets" and evidence of "dark matter" and signs of "supersymmetry" and maybe a little antimatter.

Oh, and they might find some extra dimensions. But this is the delicious part. They. Don't. Exactly. Know.

That accounts for the last-minute legal challenges by opponents who worry that the Large Hadron Collider -- hadrons, by the way, are collections of quarks, which are the particles inside protons and neutrons, which form the nucleus of the atom -- might spark a chain reaction of runaway events that could destroy the planet.

Their greatest concern is that the black holes, the stuff of a hundred "Star Trek" subplots, could grow and suck, grow and suck, which is what black holes do. A retired radiation safety expert in Hawaii sought a restraining order in a U.S. court but was denied. Another group filed its doomsday appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which also declined to act.

To calm public anxiety, the proton smashers investigated safety concerns and said any black holes "would be entirely benign" and would decay almost instantly. They would be "mini black holes," just like the ones that occur (the theorists say) whenever a couple of cosmic rays collide in space. Nature has already conducted experiments just like this, the report concludes, "and the planet still exists."

The Large Hadron Collider was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, which on the surface looks like a slightly down-at-the-heels state college in the middle of a cow pasture in the dull suburbs of Geneva. CERN, however, is now the mecca for international physics, where the streets are named for Einstein, Newton and Curie. It is the place where they invented the World Wide Web. The cafeteria also serves wine with lunch.

After the United States stopped construction of the Superconducting Super Collider in 1993, after spending $2 billion and digging 14 miles of a 54-mile tunnel, the center of action for particle physics shifted to Europe.

To see what the excitement is about, you have to put on a hard hat and get into one of the elevator shafts and travel 300 feet below the Earth's surface to the tunnel, which was possible earlier this summer, before they closed the doors.

You drop into towering caverns lined with thick slabs of concrete that hold the detectors. The detectors look like building-size barrels, honeycombed with wafers of silicon and doughnut-shaped magnets. They are crawling, Medusa-like, with blue, red, green cables, like arteries and veins. They look muscular, beautiful, alive.

The tunnel itself is like a subterranean racetrack. Protons stripped from hydrogen atoms will be accelerated to high energies and whizzed around and around the tunnel, through an ordinary-looking blue pipe, which is not ordinary at all but quite extraordinary -- because it is coiled with thousands of superconducting magnets, which bend the proton beam so it can travel in circles. The magnets are superconducting because they are supercooled by superfluid helium, which is superstrange.

"A completely novel engineering material," is how Lyn Evans, the project manager of the collider, describes supercold helium. "For example, if you were to put it into a beaker? It could crawl out."

This is how they talk at CERN. If you stop them, and say, "What do you mean, crawl out?" They might go to a blackboard and begin with the math. You do not want them to do this.

Instead you say: Why underground?

"Cheaper," Evans said. It would cost a fortune to acquire the land in France and Switzerland to build the racetrack on the surface.

And why here? CERN was born in the rubble of postwar European physics. "Switzerland was neutral, and believe it or not, it was cheap," Evans said. "It is still neutral."

These protons whizzing through the pipe and around the track? They travel in bunches. These bunches are inches long and half the width of a human hair. Each bunch contains 100 billion protons, give or take a few. Each beam carries about 3,000 bunches. They travel at 99.9999991 percent the speed of light. So they are able to complete 11,245 laps a second. In 10 hours of operation, the beam could travel to Neptune and back.

At four major intersections along the way, the parallel beams will cross one another and collide. The crash sites are the business end of the machine. That is where they put the detectors.

"Think of oranges," Evans said. "You collide two oranges together, you get a lot of pulp. We're not so interested in the pulp. What we want to do is see what happens when the pips -- the seeds -- hit each other."

And how many times will these pips collide? That would be 600 million collisions a second. The good head-on-smashup will erupt into a cloud of scattering particles, and the detectors (and their computers) will attempt to record the trajectories, energies, speeds, decays.

That's a lot of data to record.

"Quite," Evans said.

In one of the very useful cartoon books produced by the CERN public relations staff, an illustration shows a stack of 3 million CDs that is equal to the data flow from a year's worth of collider experiments. It is 12 miles tall.

* * *

To understand, deeply, some of the things the scientists here are talking about is not really possible. "I don't understand, fully, the math involved in the string theories," confessed Robert Cousins, a physics professor from the University of California in Los Angeles, working at CERN on the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment.

But the general idea is this. "Humans have always asked, 'Where do we come from?' " Cousins said. "And this is the way that physicists ask that question."

For example, astrophysicists have observed that visible matter accounts for only 4 percent of the universe. By looking at gravitational effects -- for instance, how fast galaxies spin -- they can guess that there is more stuff out there than they can see. But what is this "dark matter?" Could dark matter be composed of "supersymmetric" particles, which might pop up in the collisions at CERN? For this reason, some people have called the Large Hadron Collider the "Hubble telescope of inner space."

And what about the mystery of antimatter? Antimatter is the identical-but-opposite twin of matter, except that for some unknown reason, nature prefers matter. As Cousins explained, if the universe and nature were neat and tidy, then equal amounts of matter and antimatter would be present at the Big Bang. But something is missing. The universe appears to be constructed entirely of matter. Where did all the antimatter go? "There is an imbalance," Cousins said. "So what gives?"

Physicists like balance, elegance and, believe it or not, simplicity, for instance E=mc{+2} -- energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light. The problem, theoretical physicist John Ellis says, "is mass. Where does it come from?"
Scientists' current understanding of the universe and all its particles and forces is called the Standard Model, and it is now 35 years old. It does not explain why some particles, such as protons, are relatively heavy, while others, like photons, have no mass at all. In a theory that dates to the early 1960s, a British physicist named Peter Higgs suggested that there was a mechanism -- alternatively described as a field, a boson, a particle, a whaddayacallit--that makes some things heavy and other things light.

Say what? Exactly.

Ellis, who has long white hair, a Gandalf vibe and a specialty in supersymmetry, lectures worldwide in four or five languages, including math. He expects the supercollider to detect the Higgs particle, but he hopes to see much, much more.

"Simply seeing the boring old Higgs? Or nothing at all?" He shuddered at the thought. "But then again, not seeing anything at all might be very interesting." Still, he bets they will uncover the nature of dark matter, and he has a lot riding on the wager.

For two decades, Ellis said, the Large Hadron Collider has been all about the builders. "For the engineers, the job is over," he said. "For the experimentalists, they're happy to find what they find.

"But for the theorists, for me, it is a bit different, because we have spent 40 years on a theory." He raised an eyebrow.

"There have been thousands of theoretical papers," he continued, "and I've written hundreds of them myself. What if it all turns out to be pile of garbage?"

The Large Hadron Collider will not operate at full intensity for a year, and so many variables could hold up its work. But the physicists at CERN have reached a milestone. Now that the machine has been turned on, Cousins said, "the trick for us is to be as full of wonder as we can be -- and simultaneously as skeptical as you can get."

Google, Liberty Global and HSBC back satellite internet project

Google has hooked up with Liberty Global and HSBC Principle Investments to start funding a satellite network aimed at connecting the three billion people who still can't get access to the internet, at least those living near the equator.
O3b, standing for the "Other 3 Billion", has raised $60m from Google, Liberty and HSBC. However, they'll need ten times that to fulfill the ambition of 16 satellites offering gigabitspeeds to service providers in central Africa and the Middle East, without the latency usually incurred in space-based internet access.

The initial phase will be half that number, and is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2010. Latency is reduced by putting the satellites in a low-earth orbit, less than a twentieth of a second away at light speed as opposed to the half second needed to reach geostationary orbit.
Web giant Google, international cable holding company Liberty Global and Europe's biggest bank HSBC are backing plans to provide low-cost, broadband internet access via satellite to billions in Africa and other emerging markets. O3b Networks, whose mission strapline is ‘Connecting the other three billion’, will provide high-speed backhaul for telecoms operators and internet providers, which can then provide services to businesses and consumers more cheaply than currently possible. O3b Networks said in a statement 16 satellites would be constructed by Thales Alenia Space and should be operational by the end of 2010.

The company's founder, Greg Wyler, told Reuters coverage would span around 150 countries, stretching from Spain to South Africa, and include most of South America, large parts of Asia and all South Pacific Islands. The project intends to offer ‘fibre performance’ over satellite to parts of the world where it is not commercially viable or practical to deploy a fibre network. The project is expected to cost USD650 million until the launch, he said. Initial equity of USD65 million has been raised, but the final mix of debt and equity has not been set. Wyler is no stranger to Africa. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database he founded Rwandan ISP Terracom in early 2000s, which went on to acquire the state owned incumbent Rwandatel in 2004. However the relationship between Terracom and the Rwandan government broke down and in August last year the state repurchased the telco for USD11.9 million; it later sold 80% of the company to Libya’s LAP Green Networks for USD100 million.

Collider has succesfully completed the test

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) scientists are seen at the CERN's control center, during the switch on operation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest particle collider, in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008.
The world's largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons all the way around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.
The world's largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons all the way around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.
After a series of trial runs, two white dots flashed on a computer screen at 10:36 a.m. (0836 GMT) indicating that the protons had traveled the full length of the US$3.8 billion Large Hadron Collider.
"There it is," project leader Lyn Evans said when the beam completed its lap.
Champagne corks popped in labs as far away as Chicago, where contributing scientists watched the proceedings by satellite. Physicists around the world now have much greater power than ever before to smash the components of atoms together in attempts to see how they are made.
"Well done everybody," said Robert Aymar, director-general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to cheers from the assembled scientists in the collider's control room at the Swiss-French border.
The organization, known by its French acronym CERN, began firing the protons — a type of subatomic particle — around the tunnel in stages less than an hour earlier.
Now that the beam has been successfully tested in clockwise direction, CERN plans to send it counterclockwise. Eventually two beams will be fired in opposite directions with the aim of recreating conditions a split second after the big bang, which scientists theorize was the massive explosion that created the universe.
The start of the collider — described as the biggest physics experiment in history — comes over the objections of some skeptics who fear the collision of protons could eventually imperil the earth.
The skeptics theorized that a byproduct of the collisions could be micro black holes, subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.
"It's nonsense," said James Gillies, chief spokesman for CERN, before Wednesday's start.
CERN is backed by leading scientists like Britain's Stephen Hawking in dismissing the fears and declaring the experiments to be absolutely safe.
Gillies told the AP that the most dangerous thing that could happen would be if a beam at full power were to go out of control, and that would only damage the accelerator itself and burrow into the rock around the tunnel.
Nothing of the sort occurred Wednesday, though accelerator is still probably a year away from full power.
"On Wednesday we start small," said Gillies. "A really good result would be to have the other beam going around, too, because once you've got a beam around once in both directions you know that there is no show-stopper."
The project organized by the 20 European member nations of CERN has attracted researchers from 80 nations. Some 1,200 are from the United States, an observer country which contributed US$531 million. Japan, another observer, also is a major contributor.
The collider is designed to push the proton beam close to the speed of light, whizzing 11,000 times a second around the tunnel.
Smaller colliders have been used for decades to study the makeup of the atom. Less than 100 years ago scientists thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of an atom's nucleus, but in stages since then experiments have shown they were made of still smaller quarks and gluons and that there were other forces and particles.
The CERN experiments could reveal more about "dark matter," antimatter and possibly hidden dimensions of space and time. It could also find evidence of the hypothetical particle — the Higgs boson — believed to give mass to all other particles, and thus to matter that makes up the universe.
Some scientists have been waiting for 20 years to use the LHC

Scientist's promise on collider The LHC's purpose is "fundamental research"

The Welsh scientist who is in charge of the world's biggest experiment says it will not result in another "Big Bang".

Dr Lyn Evans, 63, from Aberdare, south Wales will set off the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) border with a click of his computer mouse.

There have been some warnings the experiment on Wednesday could wreak disaster for the entire world.

But the physicist and project leader said: "Don't worry, there will not be a tsunami in Cardiff Bay."

Dr Evans confidently dismissed the claims the LHC switch on in front of millions could herald the end of the world, or any other disaster, which have been put forward by rival scientists.

He said it was a pity that they had "stirred up" such controversy.

Discovery machine

"It's total hogwash. We're not in the business of science fiction, we are in science."

The LHC which Dr Evans said is "a discovery machine, the most sophisticated scientific instrument of our time" will smash two beams of particles head-on at super-fast speeds, recreating the conditions in the Universe moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists hope to see new particles in the debris of these collisions, revealing fundamental new insights into the nature of the cosmos.

Dr Evans is now just over a year away from retirement after almost four decades devoted to the research.

He said while they hope it will give clues to the origins of the universe, they do not know exactly what results the £4.4bn experiment will give.

It will take place in a purpose built tunnel under the French-Swiss border and will involve hundreds of scientists.

The LHC's purpose is "fundamental research"

He said the research was "very fundamental" but it could also lead to some exciting offshoots.

Dr Evans grew up in Cwmbach, Aberdare, in the Cynon Valley, the son of a coalmining family.

He attended Aberdare Grammar School where his early interest in science blossomed and went on to take a degree and PhD in physics at Swansea University.

In 1969 he went on a three month visit to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) project in Switzerland.

He and his wife Linda, who is from Trecynon also in the Cynon Valley, and their family have stayed there ever since.

Honorary fellow

But there are still strong links with his Welsh roots.

Dr Evans is a honorary fellow of Swansea University where he is looking forward to return in December to deliver a lecture.

He is also a professor of physics at Imperial College in London and he said he imagines that role will still keep him busy when he retires from CERN in 18 months time.

He is also a keen watcher, largely via satellite TV, of the fortunes of the Wales' resurgent rugby team.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan has paid tribute to Dr Evans saying he hopes his success at CERN will be an inspiration to young Welsh scientists and engineers.


And Dr Evans is passionate too about the importance of encouraging youngsters along the path his career has taken.

"All over Europe there are problems that there are not enough people going into science," he added.

He will have the eyes of the world's media focussed on the underground laboratory on Wednesday.

"I'm dreading it," Dr Evans admitted.

"Making a particle accelerator work is not trivial, making it work with the whole media of the world on your back is going to be tough."

lhc-Did Nostradamus predict the LHC will create a Black Hole?

TODAY -!!LHC - Large Hadron Collider - The unknown Knowing

Vedio 2

Public reaction to the Large Hadron Collider is so ignorant and brain-dead we need a theory to explain what’s going on. I asked Charles King at Pund-IT for a theory. He offered this:

I believe that much of the public reaction to the LHC is grounded in a kind of ignorance that might be called “Faith-Based Science” or F-BS for short. The popularity of that particular discipline knows no social, political or economic bounds.

But I also think that the folks promoting the LHC could do a better job of communicating the project’s goals and aims. Sub-atomic physics isn’t the easiest subject to discuss (let alone understand) but in order for people for appreciate the importance of science they first need to understand how it will potentially improve their lives.

This doesn’t apply just to the LHC but to virtually every form of technology.

All around us we see people reacting to science in terms of what they want to believe, or what their leaders tell them to believe. Consider the anti-global warming crowd. The anti-Wi-Fi crowd. Hell, the anti-moon landing crowd. And yes, this is tied to fundamentalism. I agree with Mitch Ratcliffe:

You may have heard of Sarah Palin and her lack of experience with virtually anything having to do with national politics (except her talent in winning pork projects) and foreign relations. But she also doesn’t believe in evolution, which means that, in principle, this discovery cannot fit into her world view unless she actually thinks God designed the roseola virus into us rather than this being the product of a process of natural selection.

We don’t need a vice president or, should Senator McCain be elected and die in office, a president who disavows science. She insists Creationism be taught alongside evolution and opposes many forms of research based on her Biblical interpretations. The impact of a Palin presidency — or her influence within the administration as vice president — on U.S. research and development policy would be disastrous.

I checked in with Mitch about the whole LHC thing and he offered me this:

I don’t think it is anti-science because of the terrorism angle, like the anthrax letters, rather it is an anxiety about progress, especially big steps forward. Think about the claims that the moon landings must have been faked. People don’t like the tearing away of mystery in their lives, because they are comfortable with those mysteries. Even if the answers the LHC make the world infinitely more interesting because we have a grasp of the beginnings of time and space, it looks to many people like we are slowly being transformed into mechanical beings who live in a mechanical universe by scientific discovery. Takes the romance away, too.

Unless you embrace changing explanations for the world, in which case this is a remarkable time. More scientific education, more math and more discussion of myth in non-science classes, whether social studies, literature or sociology, would help people embrace the importance of what’s going on today.

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