Tag Archives: cern

Beginner’s guide to atom-smashing

Today’s ubiquitous topic in the geek-o-sphere is surely the successful test of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN… so if you were wondering exactly how it is that particle accelerators are supposed to discover hypothetical sub-atomic thingybobs with funny names, Ars Technica is running a series of articles that should fill you in on the basics. Start with Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Particle Smashers, and proceed from there.

The Body Politic

sakharovWe had a lively (but civil!) discussion about the psychology of political choices last week.  So how about physiologyScience published a report suggesting that people who respond most strongly to disturbing images seem to have political views that most people would call conservative.  The test used gadgets to measure skin moisture and blink intensity. Pictures included a big spider on a face and a guy covered with blood.

Yes, I’m skeptical too.  The subjects were Nebraskans, residents of one of the more conservative of these United States in terms of voting. And if you showed this arachnophobic left-leaning blogger some of those disturbing images he’d cry like — well, like a Wall Street banker, this week.

Meanwhile, in another poli-sci story: When vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s email was easily hacked and screen-shots pasted all over the internets, she and her supporters immediately called for a repeal of the Patriot Act and warrantless surveillance, because now they know what it feels like to have their privacy invaded without warning and for no good reason.  Civil liberties enjoyed a resurgence in the U.S., and …

Sorry.  Dreaming on the job.

And just to confirm that, as The Posies sing, everybody is a frakking liar (video):

The world’s largest particle collider malfunctioned within hours of its launch to great fanfare, but its operator didn’t report the problem for a week.

[Bust of Dr. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov: photo by dbking]

Large Hadron Collider up and running; world not destroyed

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. 🙂

CERN brings supergrid internet to the world

The CMS detector at CERN will process huge volumes of data every secondIn addition to searching for the ‘God’ particle that is the Higgs, CERN have been making a vast ‘supergrid’ to transfer the vast volumes of data created by the LHC supercollider every second to the universities studying it around the world (currently including myself). The sheer amount of data at the LHC – around 15 Petabytes a year – means a whole new system has been made to spread it to other institutions outside of the collider in Switzerland.

The grid still has some issues to work out but is showing signs of real potential to blow the current internet out of commission in a few years. The grid uses fibre-optic connections and high speed routers to transfer data. It could be as much as 10,000 times as fast as current broadband, allowing movie-sized files to transfer in seconds. Of course, this technology is currently only in use in the world of High Energy Particle Physics but, like the World Wide Web before it, what is invented at CERN tends to propagate out to the rest of us before too long.

[via The Times, image via CERN]