Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's not the end of the world (not yet anyway)

Whaddya know? We're still here.

The CERN guys switched on the LHC not too long ago. The proton beams completed the first circuit at around 930BST (two hours ago, as I write this.)

From the CERN press release:

Geneva, 10 September 2008. The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN1 was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said LHC project leader Lyn Evans, “we can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

Starting up a major new particle accelerator takes much more than flipping a switch. Thousands of individual elements have to work in harmony, timings have to be synchronized to under a billionth of a second, and beams finer than a human hair have to be brought into head-on collision. Today’s success puts a tick next to the first of those steps, and over the next few weeks, as the LHC’s operators gain experience and confidence with the new machine, the machine’s acceleration systems will be brought into play, and the beams will be brought into collision to allow the research programme to begin.

Once colliding beams have been established, there will be a period of measurement and calibration for the LHC’s four major experiments, and new results could start to appear in around a year. Experiments at the LHC will allow physicists to complete a journey that started with Newton's description of gravity. Gravity acts on mass, but so far science is unable to explain the mechanism that generates mass. Experiments at the LHC will provide the answer. LHC experiments will also try to probe the mysterious dark matter of the universe – visible matter seems to account for just 5% of what must exist, while about a quarter is believed to be dark matter. They will investigate the reason for nature's preference for matter over antimatter, and they will probe matter as it existed at the very beginning of time.

“The LHC is a discovery machine,” said CERN Director General Robert Aymar, “its research programme has the potential to change our view of the Universe profoundly, continuing a tradition of human curiosity that’s as old as mankind itself.”

Tributes have been coming in from laboratories around the world that have contributed to today’s success.

“The completion of the LHC marks the start of a revolution in particle physics,” said Pier Oddone, Director of the US Fermilab. “We commend CERN and its member countries for creating the foundation for many nations to come together in this magnificent enterprise. We appreciate the support that DOE and NSF have provided throughout the LHC's construction. We in the US are proud to have contributed to the accelerator and detectors at the LHC, together with thousands of colleagues around the world with whom we share this quest.”

“I congratulate you on the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider,” said Atsuto Suzuki, Director of Japan’s KEK laboratory, “This is a historical moment.”

“It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience for us,” said Vinod C. Sahni, Director of India’s Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, “I extend our best wishes to CERN for a productive run with the LHC machine in the years to come.”

“As some might say: ‘One short trip for a proton, but one giant leap for mankind!’ TRIUMF, and indeed all of Canada, is delighted to bear witness to this amazing feat,” said Nigel S. Lockyer, Director of Canada’s TRIUMF laboratory. “Everyone has been involved but CERN is to be especially congratulated for bringing the world together to embark on such an incredible adventure.”

In a visit to CERN shortly before the LHC’s start-up United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said: “I am very honored to visit CERN, an invaluable scientific institution and a shining example what international community can achieve through joint efforts and contribution. I convey my deepest admiration to all the scientists and wish them all the success for their research for peaceful development of scientific progress.”

Either that, or the world did end, and all this -- me writing this blog, you reading it -- is just some sort of psychic resonance. We're dead already and we don't know it.

Morbid thoughts aside, this really is quite historic. Congratulations to the CERN folk. Now, please please please please please can we finally have antigravity and warp drive?


  1. And so indeed this is for real. I thought (in my comment to your previous posting) that you just made good an attempt to write a sci-fi.

    Well, particle, as well as quantum physics, had advanced a great deal as they are used to study some of the mysteries of the universe. I congratulate the wonderful people of CERN and the nations who had collaborated on this project.

    The LHC is significant, not only for the purpose for which it is intended, but also for the fact that it demonstrates that family of nations can be more powerful working together for their common survival rather than compete for supremacy (particularly in the arms race) which can lead to common destruction.

    I wish that scientists the world over will not stop searching for ways to make science more effective in increasing food production to meet the demands of a geometrically increasing world population.

  2. And not to be undermined is Dom's effort to bring this remote information into the bloggers' doorsteps. I realize that only bloggers get interested in reading blog postings. Non-bloggers don't really vare as much.

    I commend you Dom for this effort. Thank you very much.


  3. Now I got it. And why your previous posting talks about end of the world. Some people were opposed to the LHC project as they feared the "collision of protons could eventually imperil the Earth by creating micro-black holes, subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars."

    But $3.8B??!!.. makes me dumbfounded! Is it worth that much just so that in time man will know how the universe evolved? I understand that the primary purpose for this most expensive science apparatus (or machine) is to recreate the scenario seconds after the 'Big Bang' theory occured. From there sceintists may be able to learn new things or fascinating facts. But how useful is that information to mankind in terms of moral advancement and survival?

    For sure God will not reveal all His secrets. I think that this amount would have better found its way into food production.

    But for absolute scientific purposes, the LHC project is great.

  4. Hi, Mau,

    Yes, $3.8-B ($5-B, by some accounts) can feed a lot of hungry people, but that doesn't seem to be the point. I saw on TV the other day that close to 70% of food in the developed countries is simply thrown away. So it's not a matter of production but of distribution and compassion.

    Really, how much is $5-B compared to the $1-T spent on the global arms industry annually?

    Dwelling on human suffering alone tends to have us looking down pitifully on ourselves. No amount of money is every going to solve that.

    From time to time, we need a Big Project, something that makes us reflect and say in wonder, "Man is capable of that." In the middle ages, it was cathedrals and minars; in the late 20th Century, it was the Apollo Project; maybe LHC is the equivalent for the early 21st century.

    We shouldn't just be looking at the direct benefits of these Big Projects, or see these as the vanity of a few. Cathedrals and minars brought us advances in civil engineering, which leads to better houses and buildings today. The Apollo Project brought advances in computer and communications technology, something that makes blogging possible ;-) And the LHC? Maybe that's our ticket out of this mudball planet.

    Come to think of it, compassion and moral advancement really don't cost a thing. You don't need an atom smasher for that.

  5. Hello Dom,

    I agree.. morality and compassion don't have to involve any cost - they are a matter of attitude.

    For the time being, we can only marvel at the LHC project and it deserves all the benefit of the doubt. Real results from out of it shall come in the next few years and the more concrete benefits it can give mankind shall come much later.

    Man has gone far out into the realm of the possible and achieved greater strides. That is recognized.

    Dom, again I thank you for venturing to post this great achievement of man. As it is now, the LHC project is already one of the living wonders of science and a testimony to man's ingenuity and power to conceive.

  6. this is way out of context but i just got around to really reading these last two posts.. and you're funny.. it's like, one moment "aaack, it's the end of the world but i don't really mind" and this one's "soooo...we're not dead after all..BUT we could be dead and we don't even know it." i'm sorry i can't go deeper than this. my CERN knowledge is limited to Dan Brown and Tomb Raider 2.. maybe Patrick knows more. :)

  7. Of course! I taught him everything he knows ;-)