Large Hadron Collider up and running; world not destroyed

Paul Raven @ 10-09-2008

But then you’d have to be a staggeringly ignorant fool to believe it would have been, anyway.

Yes, just as planned, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was activated this morning… and while it hasn’t actually started doing collision tests yet, the boffins have been revving protons around the ring and checking everything works as it’s supposed to. And apparently, it’s going better than they had hoped. Here’s a computer representation of particles produced by protons smashing into collimators*:

Large Hadron Collider proton collision graphic

The Holy Grail of the Large Hadron Collider project is a subatomic particle known as the Higgs Boson, the conjectural key to the Unified Theory that physicists have been chasing after for years.

However, not everyone thinks it will be that simple – Steven Hawking himself has a $100 bet that the Higgs will not be found. Particle physics isn’t my field (arf!), but I’d be hesitant to bet against a guy with Hawkings’s track record. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. [image courtesy CERN via New Scientist article]

* – No, I’m not entirely sure what a collimator is, either. And I’ve probably mis-termed or described at least one thing wrong in the above post, because that’s what happens when writers try to report on Big Physics; I try my best, but I’m not on a journalist’s salary here. I’m sure some of our friendly readers in the field will correct any errors with their usual alacrity. 🙂

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13 Responses to “Large Hadron Collider up and running; world not destroyed”

  1. micah says:

    Hawking has a history of making bets that he expects to lose but would be disappointed if he won, as some kind of emotion-hedging thing. So I wouldn’t put too much stock in his bet (you’ll note that that article doesn’t quote him as saying “I don’t expect the LHC to find the Higgs boson;” if anything, he says the opposite).

  2. votetheday.com says:

    Gosh, it’s just a big atom smasher, and the possibility of something dangerous to happen is too small for that something to happen 😉 If it would have been real risk, scientists would inform us, or take measures against it, or, after all, never would have thought of taking this idea to reality. So stop worrying, listen to common sense and do not let this rumor by fools take over your mind. There are very little people, who really believe it’s dangerous – http://www.votetheday.com/polls/worlds-largest-particle-accelerator-experiment-214/, but looks like panic is a very hazardous thing, ha?

  3. DarrenT says:

    Yes, it hasn’t destroyed the planet (which only gullible idiots actually believed would happen, obviously) and yes, it’s “going better than [the boffins] hoped”. All of which is nice.

    But what does it actually do? What is it actually for? I’m guessing it wasn’t exactly cheap to put together? So presumably there’s a practical, world-changing development lurking around the corner that justifies the massive economic investment in… whatever it is? Why do we need to collide hadrons anyway?

    Excuse my painful ignorance – when it comes to this sort of theoretical physics stuff I freely admit my knowledge is just this side of Neanderthal – but can anyone enlighten the layman?

  4. Dave says:

    Maybe only an “ignorant fool” believed the LHC would destroy the world, since “would” implies a lot of certainty. However, it was perfectly reasonable to believe it might destroy the world, because that’s what the lab’s own risk assessments said. Based on these risk assessments, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees criticized the experiment in his book, “Our Final Hour.” If this made him an ignorant fool, one wonders why he was subsequently allowed to become president of the Royal Society.

  5. Paul Raven says:

    That’s why I used ‘would’ where I did, Dave. 😉 Science is based on asking questions about worst-case scenarios, and I’d be disappointed if there hadn’t been some sort of opposition to the project. I can respect it a lot more coming from someone with the sort of background that attains a place in the Royal Society than from the sort of folk who believe that the activation LHC would be one of the Seven Seals from Revelations.

  6. Scott Ager says:

    I spent the morning reading everything I could on the LHC startup including the
    numerous blogs and comments. My one lament on the human race is that fools,
    idiots, and frightened zealots seem to reproduce faster than particle physicists..

  7. Tom Marcinko says:

    Martin Rees has nothing but good things to say about the experiment in the Telegraph, Aug. 9.

    However, when the LHC is turned on this week, we should not hold our breath for exciting news. Most of the effects being sought involve very rare events – maybe only one collision in a billion. Huge volumes of data will need to be collected and sifted before any firm claims emerge.

  8. Kian says:

    Darren effectively the LHC will not paticularly produce any major world changing developments directly. What I mean is, that the average persons day to day life will not be changed considerably by the main experiments that I am aware of. What it will do is ask and hopefully provide the answer to (or at least produce more questions about) the very fundamentals of the Universe itself. Questions such as “What gives particles mass?”, “What are possible candidates for dark matter and many others”. Mankind has strived for knowledge for (at least) two main reasons curiousity and to further our quality of life. The LHC satifies the former drive. Stating that the internet itself was started or at least publised by CERN the same organisation hold the LHC. So public technology may grow where there is scientific nessecity.

  9. Kian says:

    I apologise for how poorly that was written.

  10. Tom Marcinko says:

    NPR had a story about how sad U.S. physicists are that their country has abandoned its lead in physics.

    “Eating our seed corn” ain’t in it.

  11. Darren T says:

    Hi Kian – Thank you for taking the time to respond to my query. Answering the fundamental questions of the Universe does seem like a pretty good reason for doing something, actually.

    And as you say, we just never know what might happen as a result. I’m sure that when the boffins linked up the proto-Internet all those years ago they didn’t do it with the intention of one day being able to pick up second-hand CDs so cheaply on eBay… but look at us now, eh?

    So, yeah: possible massive benefits at some point down the line, maybe, who knows? Okay, I can buy into that. Cheers!

  12. Kian says:

    No worries. I think one possible benefit that may arrise is the further development of “The Grid”. Effectivly due to the high computational demands of the system a large array of computers had to be utalised and thus a method of tapping the processing power from the entire array had to be developed (at least thats what I understand of it, though feel free to correct me if Im wrong).

    Anywho I think the next BIG global scientific project is SKA (Square Kilometer Array)http://www.skatelescope.org/ if anyone is interested.

  13. Paul Raven says:

    SKA Telescope? Lordy… now I have a horrible image of Suggs from Madness slinking around Camden at night pointing out the major constellations to “independent businessmen” in his cheeky London patter…