They've just switched on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN! Fan-fucking-tastic! This really is exciting. It'll be a couple of years before they get the LHC capable of a full science run but this is the beginning of a new age of particle physics. The LHC is going to probe the 7TeV energy bandwidth and there is serious hope that it'll find something called the Higgs Boson (commonly called the "God particle") and some of the supersymmetric partners which will give some experimental verification of supersymmetric string (& brane) theories. The standard view of things, called the Standard Model, explains all the physical forces - except gravity - but cannot explain why anything has mass. The Higgs boson is a "by hand" correction that one makes to the theory in order to rectify this but it is just an idea - we've yet to find experimental evidence of this particle's existence. Hopefully LHC will change this. There is of course the possibility that physicists have it wrong and that some other mechanism (i.e., not Higgs) gives particles mass. So, not finding a Higgs would be equally exciting as it would force a radical rethink. Either way, the LHC is going to change our understanding of the physical world. I think it's fair to say that this is my generations "man on the moon". We're unlikely to do anything as significant for a while (not because the science is unambitious but because the cost of these accelerators is immense)!

So over the next few hours the team at the CERN will slowly feed a beam of protons around the giant loop 27km of LHC (at about 11000 laps per second). When it's all up and running two beams will fire around the LHC toward each other and impact on each other at immense energies will endeavour to recreate the initial conditions of the Big Bang. When these two proton beams impact on each other then the protons will be broken down into its constituent parts which will then recombine and been splattered through detectors like ATLAS.

How we do particle physics has been explained in the following way: It's a bit like taking two fine Swiss watches and flinging them at one another at hundred and hundreds of miles per hour until they hit - and then collect some of the fragments and try and learn everything about watchmaking from the debris. It's an amazingly complicated procedure. I scratched the surface of this during my undergraduate and MSc but this isn't my area so I really know very little about it (and have huge respect for those who work on this stuff) - I'm a gravity man. So much data will be generated by the LHC that they've had to rewrite the standard data-sampling rulebook and develop something called the GRID which will probably end up revolutionising the intra- and inter-nets over the next few years. It was developments like this that ended up to the rolling out of the world wide web from CERN all those years ago.
Oh, and we haven't been sucked into a black hole. Score Science:1, Luddism:0.
Finally, don't just take my word for it - there is loads and loads of coverage of this event going on today. Enjoy!
4 Responses
  1. Laurie Says:

    I TOTALLY misread it!
    I thought it read LARGE HARDON
    COLLIDER. oops! Guess you know
    where my mind is this morning.

    Have a great day Calvin!!


  2. calvin Says:

    I'm loving the idea of a large hardon collider! What a brilliant idea - you'd get more gays and women in physics then!


  3. Martin Says:

    I think this is very exciting news, too, as I'm a science geek and follow developments in physics.

    And you're right, so far we haven't been sucked into a black hoooooooooooollllee..............

  4. I know nothing of which you speak! LOL