Live-Blogging the LHC Startup!

By Sean Carroll | September 9, 2008 11:25 am

9:20 am Pacific Time: Let’s be clear. Tonight’s start-up is a symbolic event, not a physics event; as I understand it, the beam will only be circulating in one direction, so there won’t even be any collisions. Still, it’s a very important symbolic event! The first time the beam goes through the entire machine. So, just for fun, here will be a running commentary throughout the day, with links and musings and all that makes the blogosphere special. Co-bloggers are welcome to chime in, and any particle physicists out there who want to say something about the LHC are welcome to comment or email.

9:45 am (Pacific), Sean: Feel free, in the comments, to make predictions about what the LHC will discover (ultimately, not today). Here are mine. Crackpots not welcome. And seriously, folks — black-hole/world-ending jokes are only funny the first million times.

1:14pm (EST), Mark: Here at Cornell there’s going to be a public forum this evening with refreshments, chats with physicists, two talks (by Yuval Grossman and Peter Wittich) and with various instruments and components of the detector on display.

10:26am (PDT), JoAnne: Actually, it is the end of the world as we know it. I will never again have to write a paper detailing the signatures of some crazy new Terrascale theory, wondering if there is any chance of connection to reality. I will never again have to plot a cross section as a function of the Higgs mass. In fact, I will never again have to do a loop over the Higgs mass in a code. I will never again wonder how electroweak symmetry is broken, how the hierarchy between the electroweak and gravity fundamental scales is maintained, whether there is a WIMP dark matter particle, or whether supersymmetry or extra spatial dimensions actually exist. Fundamental questions and roadblocks that have plagued us for literally decades will finally be answered and we will at last be able to move forward instead of spinning our wheels. Yes, indeed, the world will be truly different.

10:47am (Pacific), Sean: Of course we are not the only blog covering this. The US/LHC Blogs have lots of information, and Tommaso Dorigo offers some inside scoop. There is also main CERN page for the event, and one for press releases.

12:02pm (Pacific), Sean: The real excitement of the LHC startup is, of course, that it’s an excuse to party. Mike in comments already mentioned the Fermilab pajama party. Here at Caltech, where it’s not quite so ridiculously late at night, we’re having pizza and beer. And (for the wimps who can’t stay up), a lunch BBQ tomorrow. Everyone should feel free to put together their own party! Suggested soundtrack. (Dammit, I’m violating my own rules.)

12:54pm (Pacific), Sean: I’ve asked some experts to chime in. Here is Gordy Kane, University of Michigan:

The Standard Model(s) of particle physics and cosmology are wonderful established descriptions of the world we see. They leave out a lot we would like to understand, from dark matter and the matter asymmetry of the universe, to WHY the forces and particles (quarks and leptons) are what they are. LHC won’t tell us much more about the world we see and how it is made, but the discoveries there will point the way to “WHY”. It’s a WHY machine.

The discovery that makes sense is supersymmetry, i.e. the superpartners of some of the Standard Model particles. There’s a lot of indirect phenomenological evidence that indeed some superpartners will be seen at LHC, such as the unification of the forces at very short distances, the absence of large new effects at the LEP and Tevatron colliders, and the very good indirect evidence for a light Higgs boson. A supersymmetric world is also one where we can understand how the electroweak symmetry is broken and how the matter asymmetry arises, and it has a dark matter candidate. I estimate ten or twenty gluinos and a lot of Higgs bosons will be produced in October this year (but not seen unless we are very lucky about the decay signatures). IF the LHC indeed establishes the world is supersymmetric, there is a great bonus – we can write string theories at the Planck scale where the laws of nature should be written and calculate predictions for LHC experiments and dark matter from them, and we can extrapolate data from LHC and dark matter experiments to the Planck scale to see what theories are suggested. Without that window we might never learn the underlying theory from which everything emerges.

It’s very lucky that our technologies and our society allowed us to afford and to build the LHC to study nature so deeply (another anthropic idea?). It’s very unlikely (because of technological and financial and cultural limits) that we can ever have a further facility to extend this study, so we’re very lucky that a framework like string theory has emerged, one that addresses all the basic questions, at the same time we may be able to get from LHC the data that can test and establish it.

1:24 pm (PDT), JoAnne: The History Channel (US cable TV) is airing
The Next Big Bang at 8 PM this evening. The show details our expectations for the LHC and features David E. Kaplan of Johns Hopkins as well as many other of your favorite physicists, so don’t forget to tune in!

1:58pm (Pacific), Sean: Ph.D. Comics weighs in.

6:53pm (EST), Mark: BBC World News America, starting in a few minutes on the East coast, and repeated later, will have a piece on the LHC.

4:05pm (Pacific), Sean: Prize for the best paper title goes to Mihoko Nojiri, arXiv:0809.1209.

The Night before the LHC
Authors: Mihoko M. Nojiri

Abstract: I review recent developments on the use of mT2 variables for SUSY parameter study, which might be useful for the data analysis in the early stage of the LHC experiments. I also review some of recent interesting studies. Talk in SUSY08.

4:25pm (Pacific), Sean: There will be a live webcast from CERN beginning at 11pm Pacific, with the actual beam scheduled for half an hour later. But right now you can click the link, and listen to a pre-packaged CERN video. You can also watch the startup on EVO, if you know what that means (or care to learn).

4:50 pm (PDT), JoAnne: Yours truly has just been recruited for a 5 minute live radio interview on KCSB (the station is on the UC Santa Barbara campus) at 7:30 tomorrow morning. I guess David Gross has the good sense to be asleep at that hour! In any case, I’ll be sure to drink some coffee first, lest I spew some gibberish on blackholes.

6:55pm (Pacific), Sean: Sorry, the “live” blogging took a hiatus while I was talking to Hal Eisner, a TV reporter (“extraordinaire,” he asks me to add) from the local Fox affiliate. He, quite rightly, was hectoring me mercilessly in an attempt to explain the purpose of the LHC at a level accessible to six-year-olds. (He also tried very hard to get me to say “God particle,” which I mostly resisted.)

What is the purpose? It’s to discover the laws of nature, of course, or at least extend our knowledge of them. But that doesn’t always quite cut it for people. I think it would suffice to the aformentioned six-year-old; kids are naturally curious, but adults have it beaten out of them by a relentlessly pragmatic world. Among other things, the LHC represents a tremendous triumph of the basic inquisitiveness of the human species.

7:20 pm (PDT), JoAnne: There’s a host of First Beam Day activities planned for tomorrow across the US. Check the listings for an event near you. Here in SF Bay area, swissnex, the annex of the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco, is throwing a party tomorrow night in coordination with SLAC and LBNL. Much fun will be had by all!

7:53pm (Pacific), Sean: If you’re wondering whether the Large Hadron Collider has destroyed the world yet, see here.

If you’re wondering whether physics is more or less tawdry than politics, see here.

8:17pm (Pacific), Sean: The right response to end-of-the-world chatter is to change the subject — it’s just crackpottery, not a legitimate scientific debate. But damn, you have to be impressed with the vigor of the meme. Far and away the first thing that comes to mind when a person on the street hears “giant atom-smasher in Switzerland” is “might destroy the world.” How do we combat that? What is the one idea we would like to pop into people’s minds when they hear that phrase, and how do we get it there?

11:52pm (EST), Mark: Gotta sleep, but will try to tune into BBC Radio 4’s Big Bang Day when I wake up!

9:26pm (Pacific), Sean: Reporting now from the High Energy Physics conference room here at Caltech. In an hour and a half we’ll open a live feed to our colleagues at CERN, who will be updating us on what happens. Of course, the best answer is simply “all systems nominal.” The only way a detector will actually see anything (as I understand it) is if the beam is not focused perfectly from the start, which is perfectly possible. If the beam is well-behaved, it will just zip through.

But of course, there are many steps along the way, and “first protons circumnavigating the accelerator” is as good a “turn on” event as any. Folks in the know have assured me that CERN will not be hosting multiple “trust us, this is the real start” events — this is it.

9:48 pm (PDT), JoAnne:
From looking at our comments, it’s clear that some folks are still genuinely frightened by the LHC. This should not have happened. The LHC is one of the most exciting scientific journeys in our lifetimes! We should all watch it in wonder and be amazed at its discoveries.

Many a thoughtful, carefully analyzed and written scientific treatise has appeared which thoroughly disproves the claim that the LHC will destroy the Earth. But these aren’t published or mentioned or taken seriously by the press…. (HELP – I’m sounding like a Republican!)

So, let me present a different, non-scientific, but emotional argument. We physicists are human beings too. We have children, parents, siblings, friends, etc, that we care deeply about. We care about this planet and its future and the future of our families. There are literally thousands of physicists, worldwide, involved in the LHC. If there was a serious concern, the scientists themselves would have stepped forward.

As for me, one of my best arguments is that my bottle of 1990 LaTour remains in my cellar. I’m going to pull it out when we achieve collisions at the next accelerator after the LHC! Oh – and the fact that I’ve just spent the last 8 months undergoing intensive, arduous treatment for cancer so that I too can have a future and be a part of the LHC.

10:00 pm (PDT), John:

B minus two hours. Oh yeah! We’ve waited a long time for this.

11:03pm (Pacific), Sean: Action is heating up, although the pizza has yet to arrive. So I’m going to start paying attention to the “real world.” I’ll come back if any disasters occur.

11:30 pm (PDT), John:

Looks like CERN has stuck a PR video in place of the live webcast…not too surprising…maybe the site got hammered, or they have that up until it starts.

The SPS is cycling nicely. That’s what they’ll use to inject the beam in 30 minutes.

11:37 pm (PDT), JoAnne: This is the error message I’m getting:

Due to a huge interest for this live video feed of the LHC First Beam day, you may not be able to see the live video stream and we apologise for this.
Please try reloading the page, come back later, or check the other connection options available on this page.
Many thanks for your interest in CERN and the LHC!

The folks at CERN should have planned for heavy traffic – I’ve waited 25 years for this and I’m disappointed.

11:48 pm (Pacific), Sean: Getting updates from CERN. No disasters, but there was apparently a tiny glitch with one of the collimating magnets, which has now been fixed.

The current beams are low energy (450 GeV, lower than the Tevatron at Fermilab). They want to ramp up to 5,000 GeV (5 TeV) by the end of October — on October 21st, there is a get-together featuring heads of state, and they would love to have actual high-energy collisions by then.

They will be circulating the beam in both directions — just not at the same time, at least today.

The computing system involves about a hundred thousand processors — soon to be upgraded to a few hundred thousand. Data flies from CERN to Caltech at about 40 GB per second, which they also want to upgrade by a factor of ten.

11:58 am (Pacific), Sean: The webcast is limited to 2000 connections! Who’s the rocket scientist behind that?

Midnight (Pacific), Sean: First beam! Or so they say. (See below.)

12:03 am (PDT), John:

Woo hoo! Did it work?

I think it actually starts in a few minutes. The press kit says

9:00 Live satellite broadcast and webcast begin with an introduction from the commentators in the CERN Control Centre, an animation showing the passage of a beam through the LHC, and highlights of the LHC operators’ daily meeting where they lay out the procedure for getting the first beam circulating in the LHC.

9:06 Coverage begins of the first attempt to circulate a beam in the LHC. Lyn Evans, LHC project leader, will narrate the proceedings from the CERN Control Centre. Video of accelerator operators at work in the CCC will alternate with views of the LHC apparatus in its tunnel 100 meters underground.

12:08 (Pacific), Sean: Well, there was a video countdown. No human being has actually confirmed yet…

12:11 am (PDT), JoAnne: Only 2000 connections? No wonder nobody can get on! With all the hype they should have planned better than this….

12:22am (Pacific), Sean: Robert Aymar, CERN Director General … is speaking in French. Translation: in a few minutes we will let the beam zip through the LHC, sector by sector. (They stick absorbers in the way of the beam at certain points, just to check things in each sector before letting it go.) Sounds like the whole thing will take some time.

Liveblogging closer to the source from Adam Yurkewicz, and from David Harris.

I can’t update our blog because too many people are trying to read it!

12:33am (Pacific), Sean: First beam for real! We saw it! Not yet all the way around, as per previous update.

12:36am (Pacific), Sean: BBC reporter: “Ooh! This is exciting!”

12:38am (Pacific), Sean: Okay, I think the beam they had was … actually still in the injector, not the LHC. Because now there is really beam in the LHC! Still not all the way around.

12:40am (Pacific), Sean: Carlo Rubbia seen wandering around the LHC control room.

12:46am (Pacific), Sean: They removed another absorber, and now the beam has reached CMS! I think that’s 3 octants from the beginning.

1:02am (Pacific), Sean: They’ve made it about half way around, and are preparing a beam dump. Sadly, our reserved time on the videoconference has run out, as has my stamina, so I’m heading home. They’re predicting that a full circle will be achieved in the next half-hour or hour.

See you tomorrow!

1:12 am (PDT), JoAnne: The beam is at Point 8, which is 3/4 of the way around! Thanks to SkyNews for the feed!

1:18 am (PDT), JoAnne: Now the beam is at ATLAS, 7/8 of the way through. They are giving ATLAS some events (not collisions, but beam halo and beam gas). Lyn Evans, LHC project manager, was heard to say that he’s going to win his bet, whatever that is.

1:23 am (PDT), JoAnne: BEAM! We have BEAM! All the way round! Now they’re doing it again.

1:43 am (PDT), JoAnne: SkyNews has just interviewed folks in the control rooms for each of the 4 experiments. All of the detectors turned on without trouble and are excited to be getting beam halo and beam gas events. LHCb and ATLAS saw the muons from the beam dump!

Now that the beam has safely travelled through the full accelerator, it’s time for some shut-eye.

7:38 am (PDT), JoAnne: Turns out that the live radio interview was with KCBS here in the Bay Area (which makes much more sense than KCSB in Santa Barbara – our communications department got that wrong!) and just finished. They mainly asked questions about the operation of the accelerator, what comes next, etc. They did ask if the research was open and if all the results would be public or if some of it would be kept secret. And, yes, the subject of those pesky blackholes came up…

9:34 am (Pacific), Sean: As commenters have noted, Google has caught the fever:

But here is something better: the signal from ATLAS when beam first went through.

Click for the full glory!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Higgs, Politics, Science
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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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