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CERN prepares to rewrite the Science Books

Sep 10 2008 22:55
Kirsty Patterson
The 'biggest experiment on earth' has started today after twenty years of hard work by some of the brightest minds on the planet.
Just what every Physicist wants in their back garden.
Our experiments here will let us look back in time to the infancy of the universe... all expectations are that what we will find will re-write the textbooks.
Professor Tejinder Virdee, Imperial Physicist at CERN

Twenty years in the making, the 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has begun its work today marking the start of what is now dubbed the 'biggest experiment on earth'. The particle accelerator has sent protons whizzing around 100 metres below the French-Swiss border for the first time following months of testing ahead of todays historic switch on. High expectations surround the experiment with hopes that colliding the protons together to create new particles will solve some of Physics biggest secrets.

Smiles all round in Geneva

Recreating the conditions thought to be present only a split-second after the Big Bang, scientists hope to learn more about the origins of mass; to discover new particles including the theorised Higgs-Boson and to decipher mysteries such as why nature favours matter over anti-matter; how many dimensions there are and what makes up dark matter. With high levels of radiation involved in the experiment any problems within the accelerator are not easily fixed. Just getting to any problem areas could take weeks so there is no wonder why scientists at todays launch looked so relieved that everything went to plan.

Such a big step in scientific understanding comes along only rarely. It's brilliant that so many Imperial scientists have had key roles in the development of the most important and ambitious scientific experiment ever carried out.
Professor Jordan Nash, Head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at Imperial

Imperial Physicists, from PhD students to Professors, are highly involved in all areas of the project along with colleagues from all over the world. A team of eight academic staff, twelve reasearch staff, eight engineers and twelve PhD students, including former RCSU President Jad Marrouche, from Imperial are involved in the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment alone.

Professor Tejinder Virdee, the Imperial Professor leading the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, has been engaged in the project for the last twenty years. He explains a bit more about what CERN means for the future of Physics:

Google joins in on the hype

"The LHC will let us collide particles at higher energies than ever before, creating conditions which haven't existed since just after the Big Bang. Effectively, our experiments here will let us look back in time to the infancy of the universe ? we have some predictions about what we will find, but the most exciting thing about this experiment is that we may find things we have not foreseen. All expectations are that what we will find at the LHC will re-write the textbooks."

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Discussion about “CERN prepares to rewrite the Science Books”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Sep 10 2008 23:23

So if Jad comes back with more of a suntan than normal, we know the containment isn't going so well.

Sep 11 2008 00:31

does anyone else have the slight feeling that they will not learn anything (that will go in a text book) at all?

I'm not sure wjy I'm so pesimitic

Sep 11 2008 10:44

I wonder how big their electricity bill is! All those superconducting magnets, detectors, CPUs etc. must drink power!

Will High Energy share the wealth across the rest of Physics from now on, having quaffed the science budget for many years.

Sep 11 2008 11:00

At least it's partly in France so should all be nuclear!

The big question is, will all of the 'IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD' stories re-appear when they get ready for the first collision?

Mark - maybe that's why you think they won't learn anything... you think we'll be wiped out before they get to write it down ;)

Sep 11 2008 20:37

We're all going to get sucked into a black hole! I for one have already spend all the money I own on hookers, since in October we'll all be gone into the black hole!!!

Sep 11 2008 20:52

an indian girl committed suicide because she thought the world was going to end.

was she trying to get the drop on us? if she thought the world was going to end, did she figure i'll kill myself so that as soon as everyone else dies, i'll be able to say "what took you guys so long? told you so".

Sep 12 2008 08:04

Handily that webpage comes with an RSS feed.

I might subscribe, just so I know faster than everyone else if the world is going to end.

No point in doing work more work that I have to if the world's going to be destroyed.

9. Seb   
Sep 12 2008 11:20

Check the source code for how it updates :)

10. jad   
Sep 12 2008 13:57

glad to be featured on your website

an interesting debate that has started (see david king's comments recently) that asks why so much money is being put into experiments such as these, and not at more "relevant" issues such as climate change.

In due course, we will be having these debates as part of the science challenge program so stay tuned!

As for those that say it won't rewrite the text books, the field has done this in the past and will continue to do so....

Sep 12 2008 13:58

Not if you blow us all up first!

12. jad   
Sep 12 2008 14:01

i wish i had that power...

but in all seriousness, i think the "black hole" publicity has worked great for the experiment!

here's something that's quite hilarious:

Sep 12 2008 14:09

That's the sort of thing that causes panic amongst the stupid!

Check your college email if you're still about.

14. jad   
Sep 12 2008 14:50

yes, someone once told me "the general public may be ignorant, but they're not stupid"

i'm not so sure - if you honestly think a black hole is going to destroy the earth from colliding two counter-rotating beams of protons, you're quite mistaken

besides, we haven't been able to collide anything yet - it's just one beam (in the form of a cylindrical bunch of about 100 billion protons) that's been tested to go all the way around in both directions independently. This bunch of protons has however collided with "beam gas" - so called because the vacuum in the beam pipe is not yet perfect.

15. woot   
Sep 12 2008 20:21


Does the LHC have a big jet airliner style throttle lever to increase the beam power, just like on Terminator III ?

Please say it does

Sep 13 2008 10:58


What temperature do the superconducting magnets operate? What field do they generate?


17. jad   
Sep 13 2008 14:12

I once asked Jim Virdee (who is the CMS spokesman) if there was also a big "electric chair" style drop down switch to turn it on... he said no so I went to investigate... The closest thing to that switch I could find was one made of polystyrene - similar to this sign here:

I will investigate the throttle system - perhaps someone has hacked one of those flight sim joysticks - i wouldn't be surprised... i'll keep you posted

as for the superconducting magnets, it's liquid helium (10% of the world's supply is at the LHC i'm told, the other 90 presumably in the happy meal balloons you get at mcdonalds) so it operates at around -270 degrees Centigrade. These are the magnets that keep the proton beam circulating round at practically the speed of light... they are about 8 Tesla

any other questions :-) ?

18. yep!   
Sep 16 2008 12:56


What would happen to a person if they stood in the underground tunnel when the machine is turned at full power? Would they die from xrays?

19. jad   
Sep 16 2008 18:54

yes, within about 30 seconds you would have exceeded your 'safe' lifetime dosage of radiation, mainly in the form of X-Rays, and died. It's a fundamental law of electromagnetism that any charged particle radiates energy as it accelerates, which you are doing all the time if you are going round in a circular path. The heavier the charged particle, the less it radiates (it is an inverse square law) so you would be worse of with electrons. Hope that makes sense

Sep 20 2008 23:44

Jad, have you been fiddling with things you shouldn't have been?

21. jad   
Sep 21 2008 09:03

that's experimental physics for you!

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