Europe: Day 3 — CERN! The LHC!

By Phil Plait | April 22, 2008 8:00 am

This was the big day: the trip to the Large Hadron Collider.

We had quite a crew ready to go from the hotel: Gia, Brian, me, Nick, Nick’s son, Julian, and special surprise guest Chris Morris and his son. Chris is, well… he’s a brilliant satirist (some NSFW language in that link), for one thing. He’s many things, in fact, but he’s quite the science junkie and was loaded with questions about quantum mechanics and relativity, which led for an entertaining day. After breakfast, we all piled into the weird boxy van Brian rented and off to CERN we went.

Julian interviews Brian and me at LHCOur first stop was ATLAS, which dubiously stands for A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS, one of two detectors in the LHC. A pretty good description can be found on the ATLAS wikipedia page, but maybe a bit of background is called for. The LHC is designed to smack protons together head-on at speeds just a whisper under the speed of light. Packets containing millions of protons are guided through evacuated pipes that are cooled down to a mere 2 Kelvins above absolute zero — colder than space itself. There are in fact two beams, each about the width of a pencil, moving in opposite directions around the pipes. At a certain point, the beams are squeezed into even narrower beams, about the width of a human hair, and then the two beams are crossed into each other*. The packets of protons pass through each other, and when they do at least two but as many as 60 protons collide head-on. When they do, they essentially shatter into smaller subatomic particles. The number, variety, and energies of these fragments are what give scientists insight into the bizarre world of quantum mechanics.

They’re hoping to find evidence of the Higgs boson, an as-yet theoretical particle that is thought to give particles like protons their mass. No one understands why particles have mass, but if the Higgs is found, then so is the answer. It’s one of the most basic questions in all of physics… and we may know the solution shortly after LHC is up and running.

ATLAS is one of two detectors designed to see what particles come out of the collisions. Brian works with ATLAS, in fact. ATLAS is very very very very big. I mean very big. I couldn’t fit it all in one picture, even from many meters away! The sheer size of ATLAS is a bit overwhelming, but then, so is everything about the LHC. The accelerator itself is vast: it’s a ring of pipes 27 kilometers around, a circle about 8.5 kilometers across. The energies are fantastic as well. The protons zip around the ring 11000 times per second — for comparison, it took us about a half hour to drive across the ring. Funny… each proton has about the same energy as a mosquito hitting you on the forehead, which doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about an object only about 10-15 times the size of a mosquito. The entire beam energy of the LHC is equivalent to an aircraft carrier moving at 50 kilometers per hour! If something were to go wrong in the beam, it would tear a hole in the pipe containing it. Good thing it’s 100 meters underground.

After visiting ATLAS we went across the ring to CMS, the Compact Muon Spectrometer, the other detector. CMS is also really big, but only half the size of ATLAS. This means we could actually get pictures of it that fit in the frame… more or less The picture on the left is Brian interviewing me for the CERN podcast (directed by Julian; I’ll link to it when it goes live). One half of CMS is in the background. CMS is currently split in half, a bit like a cut orange, awaiting some final preparation before the two halves are slid together.

It’s difficult to convey just how astonishing this all is. The scale of it is simply awesome. Standing off to the side, taking in the size and complexity of CMS and ATLAS, I was filled with a sense of pride. People built this! Every single cable (and there were miles of cable!), every rivet, every bolt, every iron block and metal plate, everything, was dreamed up, designed, redesigned, built, and assembled.

Brian Cox and me at the Large Hadron Collider.Some people have their issues with science; they think it’s a haphazard, random, and essentially directionless process done by cold-blooded, emotionless scientists. Standing in the LHC puts the lie to that thought. As you drink in the components of this fantastic apparatus, there is an almost overwhelming sense of purpose to all of it, a knowledge that this intricate and amazing machine was built, and its one goal, the only thing it really is designed to do, is further our knowledge of how the Universe works. Humans did this, humans desired to seek out this learning, humans proposed it, humans funded it, humans built it.

And humans will learn from it. That’s what we do.

Me at the Large Hadron Collider (CMS)And as far as "emotionless" goes… well. I dare you: stand there, deep underground, surrounded by the physical manifestation of the desire to learn, looking at 2000 tons of magnet, electronics, and infrastructure, knowing that in a few months, mere meters from where you are standing, subatomic particles too small to see will recreate the conditions that existed just the tiniest fraction of a second after the Universe itself exploded into existence. If you don’t feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, of awe and majesty, then you’d better check your pulse. You must be dead.

No emotionless person could have ever built LHC, could have ever imagined it. It exists because of emotion — joy, wonder, and amazement — the fuel that drives the seeking of scientific knowledge.



*Unlike in Ghostbusters, this is good.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science

Comments (93)

  1. mocular

    …joy, wonder, and amazement…

    The essence of a well-lived life.

  2. viggen

    Wish I could see it all. Very cool.

    And humans will learn from it. That’s what we do.

    Unfortunately, only some humans will learn from it. Some will deny it ever existed, some will find ways to tie it to a government conspiracy and many will try to poke holes in it because it somehow contradicts their holy book. In simple, sobering truth, not 1 in 100 humans will ever understand it such that they can learn anything from it.

    You’re awesome Phil; I’m glad we’ve got people like you who spend time on public outreach. Maybe you can help make the fraction greater than 1 in 100.

  3. Giffy

    Your a lucky bastard for getting to visit. I would love to just sit there for an hour or so and reflect. My hunch is that many of the scientists and engineers responsible for this amazing creation have probably each done just that at some point…

  4. Thomas Siefert

    Wonder what it takes to be a maintenance technician/engineer at a place like that?
    My wife and I take turns picking the next place that we move to and it’s my turn now. :-)

  5. Lyle G

    Will the CERN collider do all that the late lamented SuperConducting Super Collider was supposed to do?

  6. Navneeth

    Beautifully written, Phil. Thanks.

  7. Tom

    Chris Morris too?! I’m so jealous.

  8. (and there were miles of cable!)

    Don’t you mean “there were kilometers of cable”? You are in Europe, after all… :-)

  9. andy

    Chris Morris?!! Add me to the “I’m so jealous” list.

  10. Colin J

    Awesome post Phil! Thanks for the update and inspiration.

  11. cms

    ;-) incredible description – and I so want to see ATLAS (CMS is enormous… cannot imagine something 3 times its size!!!). Did you get to walk round the tunnel as well?

    (Only a small comment… It´s Compact Muon Solenoid, not Cryogenic. ´Cause of its size, its a “compact” design, much heavier than ATLAS, but also much smaller…)

  12. DaveS

    Phil, thanks for sharing your awe.

    As far as “people built this”, I appreciate what you’re saying, but when you actually think about who designed, built, and funded it, it was pencil-necked engineers like me who designed it, it was cigar-chewing foremen and hard-hatted construction workers who built it,who probably had very little idea what they were building, and assuming it was tax-funded, it was millions of poor unwilling workaday folks who funded it, most of which probably had no idea what they were buying until it was nearly finished.

    It is, however, a much better thing than a two billion dollar bomber.

  13. Eric

    Tears of hope and joy began to well up in my eyes while reading your description. Screw the pyramids or the great wall… I want to visit the LHC!

  14. alfaniner

    You didn’t see two guys named Doug and Tony hanging around there, did you? :)

  15. Trebuchet

    Hmm, the value of Pi appears to be somewhat different in Europe. 17 km across and 27 km around gives around 1.58 something. Oh well, I get the general idea: It’s BIG. Very cool. You’re a lucky guy, Phil.

  16. Kyle

    I believe it was Nova has a very good show on the ATLAS detector being installed and the engineering problems with it. (Checking………) It was Nova Science now, but there was another show floating that was an hour long about it also. Here’s the link:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3410/02.html

  17. Kyle

    PS Phil,

    That hardhat does NOT fit your super brainy head!

  18. Um. Dude. Did no one show you how to wear a hard-hat properly? ‘Cause perching it high above your ballcap is just not on. You’re gonna make me think that safety pros are well-justified in their complaints about scientists.

  19. Kyle

    PSS:

    Shouldn’t the number of trips around the ring be 11,000 times a second.

    1100 would only be a speed of 29700km/sec versus 297000 km/sec.

  20. Brain.Wav

    @Thomas
    https://ert.cern.ch/browse_www/wd_pds?p_web_site_id=1

    There’s the employment page for CERN. Sadly, you have to be a citizen of a CERN member state… and if you’re in the US, that means you’re right-out.

  21. BA:

    The entire beam energy of the LHC is equivalent to an aircraft carrier moving at 50 kilometers per hour! If something were to go wrong in the beam, it would tear a hole in the pipe containing it.

    I thought it was going to tear a hole in the universe and destroy the Earth? :-)

    Trebuchet:

    Hmm, the value of Pi appears to be somewhat different in Europe. 17 km across and 27 km around gives around 1.58 something.

    It must be a metric thing. :-)

  22. Jim Bauman

    Hi Phil!

    After I read the following editorial in the Chicago Tribune, I wanted to find out more about it, and to discover your thoughts regarding it. So, I’m glad I opened your website….I wasn’t disappointed. Thanks for the superb, first-hand information!….Jim

    ————————

    chicagotribune.com

    Really Big Bang
    April 21, 2008

    There’s a chance that the world, maybe even the universe, could be swallowed by a black hole this summer.

    Maybe you didn’t notice this bulletin from the outer limits of particle physics and a federal court in Hawaii. Maybe you get protons and neutrons mixed up. Maybe you still don’t get how in quantum physics a particle can exist in two different places, billions of miles apart.

    Let us explain—not the quantum part, but the federal court/end of universe stuff.

    Scientists plan to fire up the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, later this summer. As its name suggests, the collider is a big machine that flings protons around to collide and re-create conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. This is supposed to give us new insights into nature. Or, according to a federal lawsuit, it could doom not just the planet, but the entire universe. But, we hasten to add, that’s only if the collider misfires and disgorges something called a “strangelet” that could transform this planet into a giant lump of what physicists call “strange matter.”

    Don’t ask.

    We’re not expecting the world to end this summer, and neither is California Institute of Technology theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. He’s very excited about the new collider and advises us not to worry about the potential for global catastrophe. “We are on the threshold of something big, of [discovering] new symmetries of nature, new dimensions of space and time, or the forces that hold us together. The reality is much more interesting than the possibility of the end of universe.”

    He’s right about that. Armageddon makes a good movie, but . . . then what?

    The Earth’s atmosphere is bombarded by high energy rays at velocities much faster than what the collider could muster. If catastrophe were going to happen, Carroll says, it would have happened already. But while highly unlikely, there’s no scientist who will say with 100 percent certainty that it won’t happen. Science doesn’t deal in those kinds of absolutes. And some decorated scientists have suggested that the real risks of such experiments have been underestimated. Gulp.

    Contemplating the instant extinguishment of the Earth, and possibly the Universe, is an awesome thing. So how should the world await the Hadron’s inaugural fling? Celebrate? Pray? Have a good meal, just in case it’s the last?

    How about a moment or two of silent contemplation? This would give everyone time to remember about how puny and inconsequential many worries and fears are, at least compared with vast stretches of geologic time. (The last time we tried that, we resolved to eat more corn dogs and key lime pie. Because you never know.)

    The way we see it, we’re already living on borrowed time. The latest estimate of the Earth’s demise: 7.59 billion years. That’s when Earth will be yanked from its orbit by a red Sun, scientists now predict. Of course, Doomsday could come sooner. There are asteroids out there that could collide with Earth. And, of course, science could inadvertently play a role. Some scientists worried that the first atomic bomb explosion could “ignite” the atmosphere and incinerate it like a giant barbecue. Those fears proved overblown, just as we’re sure the Hadron fears will be.

    And if we’re wrong? Just look for the correction, the day after never.

    Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

    —————————

  23. allkom

    Loved your yellow hard hat. Should use it always in place of your cap :)

    “People built this! Every single cable (and there were miles of cable!), every rivet, every bolt, every iron block and metal plate, everything, was dreamed up, designed, redesigned, built, and assembled.”

    Err.. Intelligently Designed, I suppose :)

  24. Chris B.

    I hate to burst everyone’s LHC bubble or whatever (and I’m just as excited as everyone else) but the ad on the upper right of this page is making me feel bad. Please notice the thin girl looking sadly at the mirror, while the copy floating above her head recommends a weight-loss product. The girl’s a stick already.

    Am I missing some joke? Is this a spoof?

    I’m sure Phil can’t pick the ads for this site, but…

    cpb

  25. Sili

    Words cannot convey my jealousy.

  26. Fergus Gallagher

    “but we’re talking about an object only about 10-15 times the size of a mosquito”

    That’s what my feed-reader displayed. That’s one goddam uncertain proton.

  27. Christine P.

    Every time I hear about the LHC, I ask Why will governments spend billions of dollars to look at subatomic particles, while astronomers must go begging to private foundations to try to get funding for a next-generation telescope. Surely the astronomical discoveries such a facility would achieve would matter more to the average person than LHC work. Higgs boson – who cares? But first Earth-like planet?! Hello!

    Am I the only one who thinks this way?

  28. Hey Phil while your there,
    (when no one is looking)…grab one of them there mini-blackholes and put it in your pocket, and post it on the blog when you get back.
    I wanna see one of them cute little buggers. o.0

  29. Gia

    Christine P,

    If science funding was based purely on what ‘would matter more to the average person’, then things like ‘humanoid entertainment robot’ research would be the only thing with funding. (er…That wasn’t intended to be a euphemism for ‘AI sex workers’, though now that I think of it *that* kind of thing probably would get the most funding.)

    The Higgs (or whatever does the job of giving mass to particles) *will* be found at the LHC. That’s a certainty. They don’t know what else they will find. Dark matter? Why gravity is so weak? Supersymmetry?

    They are entering the complete unknown, beyond human knowledge. It’s true exploration of the Universe. Just because what they are looking at is unfathomably tiny doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

  30. DrFlimmer

    I am an idiot. I had twice the chance to visit the LHC. But maybe I’ll get another chance in November when our nuclear physicists (of my physics department of my university) will organize another visit like they did in the last years.

    But you are right, Phil! The size of that thing is quite unimaginable! 27km of supra-conducting magnets at a temperature of about 2K – if only one magnet is not made as it should be! Hippikaye, I don’t think about that.
    But I just can’t wait to see it up and running and to see, read and hear about the results! It’s an amazing time we are living in!

  31. Mark Martin

    Christine, you’re not the only one who thinks that way; but why would you be so disinterested in knowing if the Higgs exists? Aren’t both bosons and planets equally interesting? Is the only thing which makes life worth living the hunt for… more life (“Earth-like planet”)? The Moon is a lifeless body, yet it’s full to capacity with the beauty of Nature. Please keep things in perspective; every living thing of which humanity knows is a machine made of all those uninteresting little particles. And the real objective of exploring the Universe isn’t only to find all those Earthlike planets that we just know have to be out there. The objective is to discover more about how the world IS. It’s not impossible that we’ll never find another Earthlike planet. Perhaps it’d be prudent to be prepared for such an outcome.

    By the way, the astronomical community isn’t precisely riding on fumes right now, and the high energy physics community isn’t exactly lighting cigars with money either. There are government funded astronomical observatories all over the place. On the other hand, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is currently suffering a major budget crunch.

  32. David Blair

    They expect to discover new things. Otherwise it would be engineering and not science.

    Thing about Black holes and the Big Bang. Nothing can go wrong but its all new. Trust us. Remember the A-bomb we scientists built? No one was hurt from that were there?

  33. Chip

    This map shows locations where Phil and friends have visited:
    http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/
    ;)

  34. Robert McGrew

    Yes Christine, you are in a small minority.

    It is a package deal. To understand the universe we must study the large and the small. They all work together – we need to understand how.

  35. OK, bonus points for the Ghostbusters reference, but I gotta pick a nit here:

    They’re hoping to find evidence of the Higgs boson, an as-yet theoretical particle that is thought to give particles like protons their mass.

    The Higgs mechanism gives mass to fundamental particles, but the proton is not fundamental. It’s made of quarks, held together by gluons. The majority of the proton mass comes from the forces binding its constituent quarks together! By Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, if you want your quarks to be localized in a tiny space, their momentum has to be, well, uncertain: the more you squeeze the probability distribution for finding a quark in a particular location in space, the more the probability distribution for its momentum will spread out. But if there’s a chance for the momentum to be large, that means there’s a chance the energy is large, and in relativity, energy and mass are the same thing — that’s the famous E = mc^2. So, having an attractive force bind three quarks together into a proton means that the proton will necessarily have mass, even if the quarks inside have none!

    Now, the fun thing about the Higgs is that it can give mass to particles which would otherwise be indistinguishable, so that the forces carried by those particles behave in different ways. The W and Z bosons which carry the weak nuclear force have mass, while the photon which carries the electromagnetic force doesn’t; we like the Higgs because it could explain this “electroweak symmetry breaking”.

  36. Stark

    David Blair,

    Do try to remeber that the purpose of the a-bomb project was, in fact, to build a weapon. Oddly enought they succeeded. The purpose of the LHC is to learn something new – in a cotrolled and repeatable and safe manner. Short of stepping into the beam path the LHC will not be killing anyone.

  37. it’s a ring of pipes 27 kilometers around, a circle about 17 kilometers across.

    Isn’t it a circle (roughly)? ‘Cause a circle 17km in diameter should be a little under 54km across.

  38. John Phillips, FCD

    Christine P, probably not, but it all depends on whether you consider pretty pictures more important than the possible knowledge about the make up and possible origin of the universe, as astronomy alone won’t answer that question. Plus, discovering or even not discovering the Higgs boson will answer some fundamental questions about our present level of knowledge.

    Note, I am not saying that the pretty pictures don’t have an important scientific value beyond being just being pretty pictures and in some perfect world, well my perfect world anyway :) , we would be able to fund both adequately.

    Additionally, the two fields are essentially two aspects of the same question, i.e. astronomy asks and answers questions ancillary to the ones that devices such as the LHC try to. Unfortunately, the problem from a funding POV is that LHC type experiments can’t be done on the cheap.

    P.S. In the UK, a member of CERN and LHC, and most if not all of Europe, all major astronomy projects are generally funded, directly or indirectly, by governments.

  39. has

    PZ for the weird sex.

    Phil for the amazing toys.

    Have I forgotten anything?

    Science FTW!

  40. You lucky b*****d! Seeing the LHC and hang out with Chris Morris!

  41. “Humans did this, humans desired to seek out this learning, humans proposed it, humans funded it, humans built it.

    And humans will learn from it. That’s what we do.”

    Perfectly said. And, as a side-note, I’m jealous beyond belief. I mean, SERIOUSLY? Standing RIGHT THERE, seeing the LHC? Just… beyond words.

    Plus, you got to meet Brian Cox, who is just… gah. Brian Cox. Again, beyond words.

  42. WJM

    POST A PHOTO OF THE HEISENBERG COMPENSATORS!

  43. When are you taking us all on a field trip there?

  44. Our first stop was ATLAS, which dubiously stands for A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS, one of two detectors in the LHC.

    One of two detectors in the LHC? I feel personally insulted. Way back I worked on ALICE. Yeah, no uppity Higgs bosons there. It’s sooo boring to learn about the state of the universe just after the Big Bang.

    Ah, just go away! ;-)

  45. Phil, you hare having far too much fun! Check that; you can never have too much fun. :-) Glad you’re having a great time.

  46. OOoh, I second the field trip thing, too!!!

  47. George E. Martin

    I know that I am being pedantic here, but isn’t the phrase “2 Kelvins above absolute zero” redundant? The Kelvin scale is defined as degrees Celsius above absolute zero. So it would be 2 Kelvins or 2 degrees Celsius above absolute zero.

    But otherwise, very interesting update of your travels!

    George

  48. Blu-Ray-Ven

    neato, did you get to see any blacks holes being made ;)

  49. George E. Martin

    Jim Bauman mentioned a Chicago Tribune piece called “Really Big Bang”. One of Phil’s faves Jennifer Ouellette over at “Cocktail Party Physics” (in Phil’s sidebar) put up a couple of recent posts about this. One was hers and another was a guest post.

    http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/2008/03/doomsday-redux.html

    http://twistedphysics.typepad.com/cocktail_party_physics/2008/04/guest-post-quiv.html

    George

  50. Mike C.

    News-wise, a non-post. But emotion-wise, a great post. I cross-posted that to three different places.

    I am constantly saddened by folks that don’t seem to grasp the very nature of the quest. It’s not for money, and the fame (should any befall you) is fleeting. It’s TO KNOW !

  51. I thought that landing a man on the moon was the pinnacle of human achievement (engineering type stuff – not counting curing small pox and the like). But the LHC must be pretty close to the best thing we’ve ever built now. What do you think?

    David Blair:

    Remember the A-bomb we scientists built? No one was hurt from that were there?

    It’s a bomb. It was designed to hurt people. The program was quite a remarkable achievement in its self.

  52. JKH

    Thank you for those inspiring words Phil. You should write books.

    For years I’ve been chomping at the bit for the LHC to get going. I’m just busting to see what knowledge comes of of that damn fine piece of machinery. What a fantastic dream on the verge of fulfillment.

    Scientists ROCK!!

  53. Mark Martin

    David Blair said:

    “Thing about Black holes and the Big Bang. Nothing can go wrong but its all new. Trust us. Remember the A-bomb we scientists built? No one was hurt from that were there?”

    To supplement shane’s accurate insight, consider also this: did the A-Bomb do pretty much as it was expected (did it explode and yield an amount of energy at a level of power per expectations)? If the answer is yes, then it’s irrelevant if the bomb was used to kill people. A rifle bullet can be used to kill. But the physics of the bullet are well-understood. Its path through space and the energy of its eventual impact can be rather precisely predicted. Sometimes people know what they’re talking about.

  54. Met

    LHC WTF!
    Had the chance to visit with my uni back in 2002, mainly to see the Athena anti-matter trapping project but we got to pop across and go down one of the holes while it was being drilled out, probably would have been even more in awe had we not all been hung-over…
    No mention of ALICE though? We were told that it stood for A Large Ion Collider Experiment, and like CMS said earlier, we were also told it was Compact Muon Solenoid but then physics humour being what it is you can never tell.
    It is hard to give a sense of the sheer size of the thing though isn’t it?
    Did you get a chance to see the anti-matter hanger? Our part was the one that looked like it had been welded in someone’s shed, good old Swansea.

  55. Sigh. I wrote this over the course of a couple of days, and I think the jet lagginess was getting to me. I have coreected, and thanks to everyone for pointing them out!

  56. Jeffersonian

    “In simple, sobering truth, not 1 in 100 humans will ever understand it such that they can learn anything from it.”

    Let’s wait and see on that one. I was explaining it to my family members last month and though they didn’t fully understand it, they still learned that an experiment was commencing that likely holds a key to understanding matter. That description alone interested them and caused a murmur of pride. There are also the correlating/trickle down benefits.

  57. Tim G

    We know you had Ghostbusters on your mind based on your footnote and your Dr. Peter Venkman quote on your T-Shirt.

  58. Tim G

    How did folks react to your T-Shirt anyway?

  59. PhantomPhoton

    That is an incredible experience Phil, thanks for sharing it. I’m quite jealous too. When I read the title of the post a big smile came across my face. There’s not much else that can express the excitement that I have about the LHC. It’s science! Some of us really really just want to know. I’m glad people like you get it and articulate it so well.

  60. jokergirl

    The accelerator itself is vast: it’s a ring of pipes 27 kilometers around, a circle about 8.5 kilometers across. The energies are fantastic as well. The protons zip around the ring 11000 times per second — for comparison, it took us about a half hour to drive across the ring.

    You were driving at 17 kph? What was that – a rikshaw?
    ;)

  61. Dave

    In 1992 I took a course at Fermilab that they offered for high school students. I got the grand tour there and remember feeling the same way. Back then they were gearing up to find the top quark, and I remember one of the scientists wondering if they would be able to discover why matter has mass. Hopefully now they’ll be able to answer that, and hopefully that scientist is still around to see it.

    For me the best thing about the LHC is not all the answers it will potentially provide, but the hundreds of questions it will undoubtedly raise.

  62. Michelle

    Why the hard hat? Is it to protect yourself from falling black holes? :P

  63. Kevin

    I had a friend who works at Fermilab call one day and ask if I’d like a tour, while it was idle. That meant full access to the tunnel, which is dangerous when running. OMG – it was spell binding, seeing all of the hardware, seeing the wiring to each coil, figuring out which ones were built to focus, which ones to steer, and how the coils can add energy to the beam (protons and anti-protons in the ring).

    The most amazing part was the notion that when all of the technology was looked at up close, almost ALL of it became understandable to someone with a moderate amount of technical knowledge. To add energy to the beam, essentially VHF TV transmitters were pumping hundreds of Kw into the magnets – instead of an antenna! To make a proton, a megavolt charge ripped electrons from atoms of hydrogen.

    I have the “Space Shuttle Operators Handbook”, an overview of the systems on the shuttle condensed for the lay-person to enjoy. The same sort of tutorial on particle accelerators would be a hit on this board.

    If anyone is curious as to how this stuff works, wikipedia has a pretty good entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_accelerator

  64. Walkiria

    “If you don’t feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, of awe and majesty, then you’d better check your pulse. You must be dead.”

    Just by reading your description of something I wasn’t sure actually existed (not many scientific news going on in mexican tv) made my eyes well up. I don’t want to now how I’m going to be if I actually see it (a crying hiccuping idiot).

    THIS is what humans do, not a divine being. If MY taxes were used to make something even remotely similar I wouldn’t grunt at my check every 2 weeks.

  65. cms & mexico

    Just checked.

    Mexico appears as a contribuitor to CMS in my list. So… Lol, your taxes go into the LHC as well.
    ;-)

  66. B

    Enjoyed your article a lot. I posted an attempt at a humorous look at the safety concerns (Sancho) lawsuit here:
    http://blog.uslegal.com/2008/04/16/large-hadron-collider-front-row-seat-to-the-big-bang/

    I touched (briefly) on something in my piece, that I’m sure can be capably answered by commenters here: what will the practical benefits of the LHC be for mankind? If we find the Higgs boson, what practical benefit derives from that discovery in the next 10, 20, 50 years? Humanity has many pressing practical problems now (I’m thinking – fossil fuel dependence/environment and (related) world hunger to name two). Do answering the questions to be probed by the LHC improve life for Humanity in the foreseeable future, or will the answers (merely?) fill out the highest, most theoretical branches in the tree of knowledge?

    I ask this as a man of science who believes firmly that we can’t wait for a perfect world to pursue our investigations. We’d wait forever. I’m not coming down firmly and saying the LHC is wasteful and the resources should be diverted to more practical applications. But I was — at least — somewhat startled to find myself asking a question I rarely ask myself when reading about cutting edge science. Maybe I’m closer to being on the fence this time, and need to hear the practical benefits explained. Maybe some of you can help me out, and/or show me that I’m asking the wrong question?

    B

  67. Mark Martin

    B,

    Of course you know, the foreseeable benefit is the knowledge itself. It’s a benefit, that is to say, if knowledge is enough to satisfy. Investment in this sort of research enriches in much the way as all the paintings at the Louvre. The question reduces mainly to how affordable it is in context of our overall economic condition. Since CERN is funded by a large number of wealthy nations, the bite per nation is negligible; but the profit, in the form of knowledge, will be equally enjoyable by all, including non-member nations.

    I tend to think that it’s a good thing this is finally getting done, because perhaps in a few years it won’t be so easily affordable. It’s the same with space exploration. We’re currently wealthy enough to pull off these feats without much sacrifice. Someday our descendants may be grateful that it was done when it could be done.

  68. Stark

    B,

    I do think you are asking the wrong question here. It’s not something we can actually answer – while there may be some direct and predictable benefits to humanity as a whole form this research it is the unexpected way discoveries get used that tend to have the largest impact on our world. We may discover the Higgs Boson at the LHC and have an answer as to why matter has mass and in turn that may lead to a true understanding of gravitation which may in turn lead to ways to modify local gravity which could in turn lead to cheap and easy access to space and the ability to accelerate probes to large fractions of the speed of light and allow for direct close range observation of our nearest stellar neighbors adn discovery of extralosr planets capable of supporting life as we know it. Maybe. We just don’t know.

    What we do know is that we will not continue to advance as a species if we don’t seek answers to the questions we find. We do know that previous “pure science” endeavours have resulted in improvements for mankind as a whole – visit any hospitals nuclear medicine wing for very direct examples.

    So… I would say the right question to ask is not “What are the practical benefits of this research?” but rather “Are the practical results of past pure research enough to warrant continuing to do this sort of thing?” I would argue strongly that the answer is “Yes!”

  69. David Blair

    Stark, Shane, Mark,

    I guess the A-bomb did cause a few unforeseen radiation poisonings and cancer, but so does smoking. Still I agree, it was very successful!

    Whoever decided to tested it in the desert must have been a real anti-science fool!

  70. James H.

    And here I sit, about 10 miles from the 14 mile tunnel from the partially built SSC, and sigh….that could have been here, and I would be teaching high school in the high energy physics capital of the world…Instead, just fields and cows…
    What makes me more mad than anything: The U.S. helps to fund CERN after cutting this project, and they only cut it to get re-elected.

  71. B

    Mark and Stark, good answers. I am reassured. Thanks. I think I am so focused on the need for government leadership ($$$) on the alternative energy front that I leap immediately to the opportunity costs of doing particle physics research, wishing the big bucks would flow more rapidly to alt. energy projects. I shouldn’t begrudge CERN their billions – as you observe it is a multinational funding effort. Plus, particle physics and alternative energy generation are certainly not unconnected … fields. Cheers,

    B

  72. IBY

    Huh, who make up those lame acronyms? :) Anyways, thanks for blogging about it, those are cool pieces of machineries.
    *fingers crossed, hope that there might be Higgs boson*

  73. David Blair said:

    Whoever decided to tested it in the desert must have been a real anti-science fool!

    No, privacy. Someone may have noticed if they set if off at Caltech or MIT or NYU or somewhere…

  74. Walkiria

    Thanks cms & mexico!!!!!

    I’ll definitely think less pourly of my government now (only a little bit less).

    I will remeber both you and the LHC everytime I get my check with a smile. :D

  75. AMIGAUSERR

    As a taxpayer, I want to know how on earth this thing got funded.
    Instead of wasting billions on this white elephant, we could have used the money to help the poor in Europe and elsewhere have a better life
    Its no wonder science is loosing popularity, when people see such a waste of resources.

  76. Nigel Depledge

    Amigauserr said:
    “As a taxpayer, I want to know how on earth this thing got funded.
    Instead of wasting billions on this white elephant, we could have used the money to help the poor in Europe and elsewhere have a better life
    Its no wonder science is loosing popularity, when people see such a waste of resources.”

    Well, asuming you are sincere and not simply stirring stuff up to get attention, I’ll try to address your concerns…

    First off, CERN is an international cooperative effort. I do not know how many states have contributed, but billions of euros is a trvial fraction of the combined annual budgets of the CERN member states. I am sure that, if you really want to know the numbers, you could find out with a bit of research on the internet.

    Second, it is no white elephant (unlike, say, the ISS, which does not look like ever returning any fundamental science). The LHC has the potential to give us a massive leap forward in our understanding of the fundamental nature of matter. If you read Phil’s posts about it, you may get some idea of what that is about. Additionally, if you want to know a bit more, there are plenty of resources on the web. Start with wikipedia and go from there.

    Third, the EU member states do spend large sums of money on all sorts of projects to “help the poor”. At the end of the day, however, any country is run by politicians who will be concerned about getting re-elected, so their spending priorities will represent many interests, some of which will conflict from time to time. Everything is a compromise. However, if you feel that “the poor” are not getting a fair slice of the pie, perhaps you should write to your representatives (assuming you live in a democracy of some kind) rather than simply whinge about it on the web.

    Fourth, science gets a significantly smaller budget than such things as defence, health care, agriculture, education and so on. Just because one very large project has been funded does not mean that science in general is given a large portion of tax spending. So, if you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul, there are other places from which one could take the funds to do so. Why pick on science in particular?

    Fifth, science may be “loosing” (sic) popularity (something that you have not demonstrated to actually be the case, BTW), but I very much doubt that, if true, this is down to large projects such as the LHC. Many people (myself included) feel that science is losing popualrity because science education is being cut back and dumbed down. For instance, take the UK: whereas 20 years ago, it was obligatory to learn the three sciences from the ages of 11 – 16 (and sit exams for them), shortly after the introduction of the GCSE system, many schools were permitted to offer a “double science” GCSE instead of individual GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics. More recently, I have heard that it is no longer obligatory to continue learning any science at all at the GCSE level (i.e. the students may give up science at the age of 14 or 15). Consequently, we have a new generation of citizens who have almost no understanding of science at all. Meanwhile, of course, science has not stood still. Many new things have been learned in the last 20 years. Thus, to many of the UK’s young adults, science is seen as a very hard topic and is of little or no interest to them personally. I am sure that the actual situation is more complex than I have here described it, but I believe that the factor I have highlighted is a significant one. By contrast, I believe the modest sum of money spent on building the LHC will at most be a contributory factor (as opposed to a main one) in the purported loss of science’s popularity.

  77. John Phillips, FCD

    AMIGAUSER: LHC costs in total about the same as three or four B2 bombers or ~$1/human on the planet. If you really want to rail at costs, try the obscenity that is Iraq. It has cost Australia alone a third of the cost of the LHC while the US cost is at least a 100 times the cost of the LHC and still going, not forgetting the damage to the world economy, and the UK cost to date is about equal to the total cost of builidng the LHC. Now if you want to solve European or world poverty start where the real amounts are being wasted and amounts that could make a real difference in almost every field you can think relevant to solving the worlds problems if we only had the political will.

  78. David Blair
  79. God

    Everybody has to play God and will probably destroy the earth with this experiment. Just plant a tree or something for seven days instead.

  80. Jimmy Chen

    I like the last sentence of your essay:
    “No emotionless person could have ever built LHC, could have ever imagined it. It exists because of emotion — joy, wonder, and amazement — the fuel that drives the seeking of scientific knowledge.”
    As a physics guy, I need this kind of emotion all over my physics life. This kind of emotion is that kind of passion which Randy told us to search for…
    Thank you!

  81. socratus

    The mad CERN ’s way.

    In 1906, Rutherford studied internal structure of atoms,
    bombarding them with high energy a- particles.
    This idea helped him understand the structure of atom.
    But the clever Devil interfered and gave advice to physicists
    to enlarge the target. Bomb them!
    And physicist created huge cannon-accelerators of particles.
    And they began to bomb micro particles in the vacuum, in hoping
    to understand their inner structure. And they were surprised with
    the results of this bombing. Several hundreds of completely new
    strange particles appeared. They lived a very little time and do not
    relate to our world. Our Earth needs its real constants of nature.
    But this was forgotten.
    What God carefully created, is destroyed in accelerators.
    And they are proud of that. They say: we study the inner structure
    of the particles. The clever and artful Devil is glad. He again has deceived man.
    Physicist think, that an accelerator – is first of all the presence of huge energy.
    And the Devil laughs. He knows, that an accelerator – is first of all the Vacuum.
    But this, he has withheld from man.
    He has not explained that the Vacuum is infinite and inexhaustible.
    And in infinity there is contained an infinite variety of particles.
    And by bombing the vacuum, one can find centaurs and sphinxes.
    But my God, save us from their presence on Earth.
    ========= .. ========.
    Rutherford was right.
    His followers are mistaken.
    Why?
    Imagine, that I want to plant a small apple- tree.
    For this purpose I shall dig out a hole of 1 meter width and 1,20 m depth.
    It is normal.
    But if to plant a small apple- tree, I shall begin to dig
    a base for a huge building (skyscraper),
    or if to begin drill ground with 10 km. depth,
    will you call me a normal man?
    ========== .. ===============.
    Imagine a man who breaks watches on the wall.
    And then he tries to understand the mechanism of the watches
    by thrown cogwheels, springs and small screws.
    Does he have many chances to succeed?
    As many as the scientists have who aspire to understand
    the inner structure of electron by breaking them into accelerators.
    If not take into account the initial conditions of Genesis,
    the fantasies of the scientists may be unlimited.
    ========== . ======== .
    The Nature works very economical.
    For example, biologists know 100 ( hundred ) kinds of
    amino acids. But only 20 ( twenty) kinds of amino acids
    are suitable to produce molecules of protein, from which all
    different cells created on our planet. What are about another
    80 % of amino acids? They are dead end of evolution.
    The physicists found many ( 1000 ) new elementary particles in
    accelerators. But we need only one ( 1) electron and one (1 )
    proton to create first atom, to begin to create the Nature.
    All another elementary particles (mesons, muons , bosons, taus,
    all their girlfriends – antiparticles, all quarks and antiquarks…etc)
    are dead end of evolution.
    ============.
    What was before – “ the big bang” or the vacuum ?
    The physicists created “ Europe’s Large Hadron Colider “
    Please, look at how our physicists made this accelerator.
    They made the vacuum and after they generated a big reaction
    between two colliding particles in some small imitation of the
    “big bang”. They didn’t make this process in the reverse.
    So, what was prior in the Universe: “ big bang” or vacuum?
    ===========================..
    The Universe as whole is Vacuum, first of all.

    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik. / Socratus.

    http://www.socratus.com
    http://www.wbabin.net
    http://www.wbabin.net/comments/sadovnik.htm
    http://www.wbabin.net/physics/sadovnik.pdf
    ====================..
    P.S.

    Will CERN find the God – Particle?
    Hawking bets CERN will not find the God Particle

    http://www.physorg.com/news140161003.html
    ================..

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