Stories tagged large hadron collider

Someone might have just been served: but it's too early to say for sure.
Someone might have just been served: but it's too early to say for sure.Courtesy James Alby
If that headline meant anything at all to you, it probably also meant, "Aw, SNAP!"

In the giant, high-energy dance off of the particle accelerators, the tough-but-kinda-slow boy from down the street, LHC, just got served by the scrappy old-schooler, Tevatron. Maybe.

What am I talking about? You know what I'm talking about! Tevatron brought it Chi-town style all up in LHC's huge, eurotrash grill, and pulled off LHC's signature move, a move that, ironically, LHC has not yet executed; according to an Italian physicist's blog, scientists at Fermilab's Tevatron super-collider in Illinois may have discovered evidence of the Higgs boson, the last unobserved particle in everybody's favorite model of particle physics. The Higgs, if it does in fact exist, is what gives matter mass. If it doesn't exist, we need to re-think our ideas about how the universe works.

The icing on the cake of the maybe-discovery is that the Tevatron particle accelerator has been scheduled to shut down sometime in the next couple years, because the much larger and more powerful new accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, the LHC, was about to make it obsolete. The LHC was built, in part, to prove the existence of the Higgs boson.

Now the LHC is sitting there wondering if the old dog really just called it "son."

The Large Hadron Collider recorded its first record-breaking proton collisions today, smashing subatomic particles into each other with about 3.5 times as much energy as any other experiment.

I don't know about all of you, but I haven't been consumed by a micro black hole yet. Or maybe I have, and I just don't realize it. If that's the case, don't even worry about it—life in the hole is pretty much like it was on the outside.


A concerned citizen preforms a simplified self test: Results are positive.
A concerned citizen preforms a simplified self test: Results are positive.Courtesy kevjblack
The Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, the World Destroyer, the Hula Hoop of God, the RC Matchbox Racetrack of Zeus, the Contraceptive Ring of Gaia herself… has been turned on.

You remember how concerned you were about this, right? You were worried that, based on what that friend said and what you read on that webpage, the activation of the LHC could be the end of the world, if not the universe.

Well, I know you’re nervous about what you might find, but I think there’s no avoiding it—it’s time for our regular self-check. I’ll walk you through it.

Stand up, and place your arms at your sides, palms in. Move your hands back and towards each other, keeping the palms facing in. When your hands have nearly met behind you, pull them forward and make a grabbing motion with your hands.

Did your hands go through thin air, or did they encounter something soft yet substantial? If the latter is true, we can all breath a sigh of relief—the LHC didn’t destroy life as we know it, and your butt is safe. For now.

The collider was actually turned on on Friday, although the first collisions from its accelerating beams of particles weren’t expected until early December. Much to the scientists’ surprise, collisions were detected as early as Monday. Check again if you need to, Buzzketeers.

If you’re looking for something to worry about, however, you might consider the following: the machine isn’t anywhere near full power yet. The protons involved in Monday’s collisions had been accelerated to the point where they had 450 billion electron volts. In the next few weeks, the LHC team will accelerate the particles up to 1.2 trillion electron volts, and, eventually, the facility should be accelerating protons to 7 trillion electron volts. When you’ve got protons heading each way, that means collisions will involve 14 trillion electron volts.

Yowza, right? I mean, the next most powerful particle accelerator, the Tevatron in Illinois, can only inject 900 billion electron volts into its accelerating particles—the LHC can do more than 15 times that!

But what does that mean? That sounds like a frightening amount of energy, so why doesn’t the Earth rumble and moan like a house in a storm whenever a large particle accelerator is turned on? It is a lot of energy, especially when you’re concentrating it into individual protons, which are, of course, very very small. But an electron volt is a very small unit of energy; it is defined as being “equal to the amount of kinetic energy gained by a single unbound electron when it accelerates through an electrostatic potential difference of one volt.” One trillion (that’s a million millions) electron volts—one fourteenth of the total energy of the LHC’s biggest possible collisions—is approximately equal to “the amount of energy of the motion of a flying mosquito.” That might be a deceptively small analogy—I’m sure it takes much much much more than a few bugs on treadmills to get the LHC powered up, and, again, that’s a lot of energy to be concentrated in a single subatomic particle racing at nearly the speed of light—but it’s an interesting comparison.

Strangelets and micro black wholes: 0; continued existence: 1.


A killer agent from the future: Like the Terminator, but with bread!
A killer agent from the future: Like the Terminator, but with bread!Courtesy Hillarie
So, I’m sure y’all have heard the news by now. The Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most elaborate scientific device ever built, has broken again. And it never even got the chance to end the world.

See, many people believe that the LHC’s attempts to catch a glimpse at the forbidden knowledge of the universe could, like a nerd’s efforts to peek into a locker room of large and aggressively athletic members of the opposite sex, go terribly wrong. Earth-endingly wrong. Sure, pretty much everyone who knows anything about it says that the LHC really isn’t dangerous in that way, and the odds that it would cause a chain reaction that would destroy the world are about the same as its chances of creating an army of teenage mutant ninja turtles. (There simply aren’t enough karate-practicing teenage turtles out there to mutate!) But that doesn’t seem to matter, because every time they try to turn that sucker on, something goes wrong, and we keep getting robbed of our first row seats at the end of the world (or, alternately, our seeding in the ninja reptile tournaments).

Do you know what killed the project most recently? I think you do, if you read this post’s headline. A bird. A little bird dropped its delicious toast on a piece of outdoor equipment (most of the LHC is deep underground). Presumably it was a bird, anyway. Whatever the case, a mystery slice of baguette found its way to some important equipment that was not baguette-proof, causing the machine to rise a few important degrees in temperature.

The damage caused to the machine wasn’t catastrophic. It shut down as the temperature in the circuit increased, which is a good thing, because if the LHC had been fully operational at the time, such an increase in temperature could have caused the superconducting magnets in the particle accelerator to become less-superconducting, and then all that energy from the near-light speed particles would… crash. Boom. But that didn’t happen, and the LHC should be up and running this winter.


A month ago, the internets were alive with discussion over the theory that the Large Hadron Collider was being sabotaged… by the future!

Naturally I ignored this news, because Science Buzz doesn’t credit nonsense like this with attention, and, what’s more, I’m familiar with the concept of someone at one point in time sabotaging his self at another point in time, and I know that it only goes the other way. Trying drinking something named after a cartoon at the end of an evening, and you’ll see what I mean.

I don’t totally get the idea behind this time travel sabotage theory, but the basic premise is that the universe, or “God,” or the fundamental forces of physics, or whathaveyou, aren’t into the possibility that the LHC could create a Higgs Boson. The Higgs is an important theoretical particle that sort of… ties the room together, if we’re calling the whole universe a room. Experiments at the LHC are trying to create conditions in which a Higgs might be observed. However, say a couple of respected scientist dudes, it could be that the Higgs is so “abhorrent to nature” that its creation would send ripples back in time to prevent it from being created.

Leaving aside the exact mechanics of time ripples, let’s consider what’s happening here. As we all know, while killing your own grandfather is often temptingly within reach, going back in time to kill your own grandfather is impossible. It could just be that no one is owning up to doing it, but the situation also describes a paradox: if you were to travel back in time to kill your grandfather, he couldn’t have created your mom or dad, who, in turn, couldn’t have created you, so you couldn’t go back in time to kill him, so… you get the idea. One might think that the universe attempting to undo the creation of a Higgs boson presents a similar paradox—if the creation of the boson is what causes it to destroy the equipment before it can be created, it would never be created, and therefore couldn’t destroy the equipment that creates it. Bleh. On the other hand, the scientists say, while you can’t kill your grandpa in the past (darn!) you can, say, push him out of the way of a speeding bus. Yay! (Unless the event of your grandpa’s bus-related death was the sole inspiration for your time traveling adventures.) The setbacks in the LHC’s operations, say the theorists, could be the universe trying to push us out of the way of a speeding bus, as it were. But what about the Higgs is so abominable? They aren’t sure about that.

It seems to me that there are still some brain-twisting complications in that theory. Cause and Effect, I think, are going to have difficult time sorting out whose clothes are whose in the morning. But… come on! A bird dropped some bread on the LHC! Since when do birds drop things on things? It has to be time-traveling mischief.


Feeling a little frayed?: That's ok. We've been jerked around a lot in the last year.
Feeling a little frayed?: That's ok. We've been jerked around a lot in the last year.Courtesy KinnicChick
Ok. The startup of the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest, fanciest machine ever built, the doomsday atom-smasher, the revealer, the secret-finder, the lens of God* has once again been delayed, this time from October to November.

The machine that will make sense of it all, or start an apocalyptic chain reaction in the matter of our planet, has a couple little helium leaks that need to be repaired. If I were the director of the project, I’d just get a couple interns to stick their fingers in the holes (or have them put their mouths over the leaks for hilarious squeaky interns), but the folks in Switzerland aren’t screwing around.

“We’re going to get it right this time! November? Maybe! Maybe later! Don’t push us, okay? Do you want us to blow up the world? We will, so help me, we will! I am so frustrated!” stated one scientist I just imagined.

So you’ve got one extra month, at least. What are you going to do with it? The possibilities are practically endless. Here are some suggestions:

  • Look at your muscles in a mirror
  • Oil your better muscles
  • See what sport fishing is all about
  • Go to Ikea and splurge. Buy all the wine racks
  • Arts and crafts
  • Watch True Lies with the sound off. Try to guess what the characters are thinking about
  • Google “Origami”
  • Pick one of your friends to be your enemy, but don’t tell them
  • Review your notes

BTW, if you’ve already forgotten what the LHC is, and what it’s supposed to do, check out some of our older posts on it here.

*When I enter Thunderdome, I want all of this to be my introduction. Especially “The Doomsday Atom-Smasher” part†

†Holla back, Mad Max enthusiasts! Who rules Bartertown?

The restart of the Large Hadron Collider, the massive, 17-mile-long particle accelerator in the Alps that is supposed to teach us about about the fundamental particles and properties of the universe (immediately before destroying the universe. not really. probably) has been delayed again. October 2009 is the new start up date.

Come on, scientists! If you wait too long, we won't care any more. You'll be all, "Hey, everybody, it's the biggest scientific machine in the history of science and machines, and it's doing something..."

And we'll all be adjusting our Halloween costumes, all like, "Whatever, scientists. The Higgs boson and the end of the world were totally September, 2008. Laterz."

Why don't you surprise us all by turning the world into strange matter sometime in August?

Enjoy. this is what would happen if the CERN experiment went all but right. ENJOY!!


Ask not...: It tolls for thee, bro, it tolls for thee.
Ask not...: It tolls for thee, bro, it tolls for thee.Courtesy carl.jones
Just messin’, y’all!

Only some of us will die on September 10th! And that’s only because we were going to die anyway. There will be sudden heart attacks, tragic car accidents, hilarious full-body prolapses, and possibly some mysterious cases of spontaneous combustion, and none of that will have anything to do with the Large Hadron Collider turning on on the tenth of September.

That’s right, everyone, you can stop holding your breath, and start crossing your fingers, because the LHC now has a date for its first proton collision.

Some people have raised concerns that turning on the LHC could lead to the destruction of the earth in one of several very sciencey ways. Other people have shouted down these jokers, however, because they are very, very, very probably wrong.

And if the world doesn’t end, well, we’ll probably learn all sorts of rad things about the nature of the universe. We might even get some visitors from the future. But I might put a larger bet on the destruction of the solar system (but, you know, fingers crossed).

So, Buzzketeers, on September 10, do your best to protect yourself from the everyday dangers of existence. Wrap your head in packing foam, fill your tummy with starch-based peanuts, and keep yourself wet and/or naked to prevent sparks catching in your clothing and hair, because you probably won’t want to miss what’s coming out of the LHC.


But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!
But what a way to go!: Look! I can see my house! Right on the center left, being sucked into an ultra dense, inescapable mass!Courtesy NASA
So, what? You wanted to live forever?

Oh, you did? Er…even at the expense of scientific enterprise? Whatever. Deal with it, crybaby, because me and my little Strangelet are going to wring this planet dry.

Do you remember the Large Hadron Collider? No? We posted about it this spring on Science Buzz. It’s a recently completed supercollider in France and Switzerland—the largest supercollider in the world, with a 17-mile circumference. Protons will be blasted through the device so fast that they’ll make the entire circuit 11,000 times per second (which is about the speed of light, I believe). When two streams of protons meet, some of them will collide, and smash apart. At that point two huge detectors will attempt to gather data on just what comes out of the destroyed protons. The hope is that when the machine is switched on in August, we’ll make some fantastic discoveries about the most basic (and yet mysterious) elements of matter.

Oh, and the world might be instantly destroyed. I didn’t mention that last time? Huh. I suppose it just slipped my mind because, you know, who wants to live forever, right?

Some people (read: crybabies) are very concerned that the colliding particles could form a micro-black hole, which could either evaporate instantly, or gobble up the earth. Whoops! There’s some thought that the collider might also produce a spicy little devil we call the “strangelet.”

Stranglets are, it should be said, hypothetical—they’ve never actually been observed. A strangelet is basically a tiny piece of “strange matter,” stuff made up of the same components of regular vanilla matter, but in a unique configuration (equal amounts of up, down, and strange quarks, for those of you in to…quarks, I guess). The fear is that, where a strangelet to come into contact with regular matter on Earth, it could convert that matter into another strangelet, which would convert other matter into strangelets, until the whole of Earth would be turned into a big ball of hot strange matter. Which would just be the pits.

A particular group of people was so worried about the repercussions of turning on the LHC that they actually filed an injunction against its operators. The lawsuit was dismissed, on account of the defenders of humanity just “needing to chill out.”

The plaintiffs claimed that the odds of the LHC creating a global catastrophe are about one in fifty-million—about the same as winning the lottery, but that happens from time to time. Not to me, though.

The scientists behind the LHC, however, argue that the odds are much lower than that even, if not zero. Collisions like those planned for the LHC occur naturally every second, as cosmic rays smack into the earth, and so far everything is all right. Furthermore, should something like a micro-black hole be formed, mega-eggheads like Stephen Hawking predict that it would instantly turn to nothing.

And that’s kind of the thing—some of the world’s biggest smarty-pants are working on this project, and they aren’t concerned. That has to mean something, right? Then again, according to The Incredible Hulk, many scientists aren’t all that concerned about their own certain, imminent death, so long as they get to do some crazy experiments. And I trust comic books implicitly, so who knows.


This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!
This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!Courtesy Bifford The Youngest
All this time I’ve been saying that we’re living in the future, and now I’ve been made to look like a damn fool.

It turns out that this isn’t the future at all. It’s only, like, the present. Or maybe even the past. God, I feel so trashy. It’s like when I spent all that time walking around in my cool sweat pants, and then it turned out that sweat pants were, you know, never cool.

How do I know it’s not the future now? Because pretty soon a huge new piece of science may make time travel possible. Not from now to the past, but from the future to now…making us the past. It’s too much! It’s like we’re stuck at the lame table in the lunchroom!

Deep breaths… I’ll back up here.

This summer will see the completion of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, “the most powerful atom smasher ever built.” Now, as usual, this atom smasher is all about studying the weirdest, most dizzyingly small pieces of existence, but the most relevant upshot of this (as far as JGordon is concerned) has to do with time travel.

Some scientists think that when the energies of the LHC are concentrated into a subatomic particle, the fabric of space and time—“spacetime,” to save a valuable wordbreak—may do something embarrassing, like rip its pants. (Check out a link or two on spacetime if you feel like getting punched in the lobe.) This rip in the pants of spacetime can be characterized, rather unfortunately, as a wormhole.

A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.
A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.Courtesy Benji64
According to one school of thought over time travel, a wormhole might be used to travel through time. Or, really, as a shortcut through time, since we’re all kind of traveling through time anyway. The idea, as best I can manage it, is that one end of the wormhole exists when it was created, the present (I like to think of this as “inside the pants”), and the other end is accelerated to some point in the future (“Outside the pants,” if you will).

No, I take it back. As much as I like to think of the future as outside my pants, maybe it’s better to think of it like this: We, in this god-awful, no flying cars present, somewhere in the left leg of the pants. The future, in all its pill-meal, robot-pet glory exists in the right pant leg. Now, to reach this corduroy promise land, we could just walk up the left leg and down the right leg like a bunch of saps (or wait for it to come to us, seeing as how we’re dealing with time) or we could build a Large Hadron Collider, something that could punch a hole right through the fabric of the pant leg, so we could just hop from one leg to the other, without screwing around on all that inseam.

What this means, if we’re talking about time again, and not pants, is that we haven’t so much created a time machine as a tunnel through time. This theory also explains why we haven’t had any travelers from the future yet: because while they might have the technology to keep their end of the wormhole open and traversable (which would require a sort of energy we mostly only theorize about at the moment), they can only go as far back as the original creation of the wormhole, which is now (or possibly this summer). My own theory as to why no tourists from the future have shown up here is a little more simple—why would anyone from the future want to come here? It’d be like someone who lives in Disneyworld (Mickey Mouse?) going to Fargo for vacation.

But who knows? Maybe this summer we can all get our pictures taken by people from the future.

Another school of though on time travel.