Archive for September, 2008

As has been discussed ad nauseum, there has been a suit filed in the Hawaii U.S. District court aiming to stop the Large Hadron Collider from starting operation, on the grounds that it might destroy the world. In a development that will shock no one (and I suspect that includes the plaintiffs) that suit has been dismissed, according to this story at MSNBC.

(Rambling thoughts and pontification on the whole affair below the fold.)


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I’m currently in San Diego to attend my cousin’s wedding. (It’s going to be held at the Wild Animal Park, so yeah, she’s pretty cool.)

On the plane ride here I was scribbling down some ideas on how to explain Higgs physics (more on that later) when the guy next to me asks, “Are you from Fermi?” Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name, but he was a software engineer who wrote some of the user interface for the Tevatron control center. Specifically, I think he wrote the GUI for the anti-proton injector, but since I’m a theorist and they don’t let us near that stuff, I’m not entirely clear which part that is.

Anyway, after some talk about the LHC, and the consternation about the recent magnet failure and helium leak, he told me some entertaining stories about troubles at the Tevatron.


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The Atom Smashers

Recently I attended the opening of The Atom Smashers, a documentary by Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross from 137 Films. It was held, appropriately, at the Museum of Science and Industry. Unfortunately, this had the effect of providing us with what is probably the smallest screen in the city of Chicago. That can easily be forgiven because the film itself was exceptional.


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According to Stephen Colbert physicists are more threatening than bobcats. The most refreshing part is that the threat was that one of the physicists violated the geek-code by confusing Star Wars with Star Trek. Unlike black holes, such a non-nerdy physicist really is a threat to all life on Earth.

I’m also surprised that threat #1 wasn’t bears in space. (Apparently bears are also a threat to the LHC. Or maybe the Earth; that isn’t actually made clear.)

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Talking of spin-offs

On of the justifications for building a massive project like the Large Hadron Collider is that it has the possibility of producing new technologies as spin-offs. A good example is that the World Wide Web was developed at CERN, or that accelerator technology is routinely used to treat and find new cures for cancer.

Since I’ve been thinking about this, I was amused to note that a much, much, much bigger field — political propaganda operations — has also had at least one notable spin-off. This week’s On The Media has a segment with Jennet Conant about the Brittish propaganda operation durring WWII aimed at increasing public support among Americans for the United States to enter the war. This operation found a young flying ace, who had been grounded due to injuries, and asked him to write up his “adventures” in the Royal Air Force. These stories turned out to be quite good. So good that the pilot, by the name of Roald Dahl, was convinced to take up writing for a career. In the middle of the current political noise-storm, it’s good to think that someone involved will go on to produce something worthy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

The full OTM story also has spies and forgeries and other fun stuff. Check out the transcript or audio here.

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It seems that, despite it’s successful test, the Large Hadron Collider won’t find any evidence for evolution. Apparently they haven’t heard about the possibility of producing dragons.

Via Ed Brayton, who points out that that site is the news outlet of the American Family Association, which helps to explain the, shall we say, “intellectual content” in the article. The most amusing part is that (as of now) the comments on that article are uniformly slamming it. I’m guessing that’s Ed’s fault (good job!).

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Here be dragons

So, there’s a shiny new hadron collider in Geneva, and not only is it large, it works! The next step, of course, is for it to make all kinds of spectacular discoveries about the fundamental structure of matter. All across the blogosphere people are putting forth their predictions for what the Large Hadron Collider will find. The best prediction award goes to Jester, who calculated the probability of producing dragons. (The original possibility having been suggested by Nima Arkani-Hamed.)

And what part of nature is hiding around the corner, waiting to be discovered? You may have heard that the LHC was built to find something called the Higgs Boson, and that this has something to do with why things have mass. That’s correct, but the possibilities are even richer. It turns out that our current understanding of particle physics tells us that there are at least two things that exist, but haven’t been found. They are:

  1. The Higgs
  2. Something Else.


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Happy birthday to me!

It’s my birthday today, and as a present to me the Large Hadron Collider will be turned on tomorrow. Thanks, International Community!

The History channel is joining in the celebration by broadcasting a special documentary on the LHC. David E. Kaplan, the host of the special, explains why you should watch it.

(While I’m on the subject, Clayton Brown and Monica Ross have made a documentary about particle accelerators. See their blog for more information, including the bit about the premier in Chicago on Sept. 19th.)

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It’s deja-boom all over again

Wow, I thought the worry that the LHC might destroy the world was amusing, like most predictions of the end of the world. It turns out people have been sending actual death threats to LHC researchers.

The annoying part of this is that just a couple people (who Mark correctly identifies as crackpots) have managed to generate a storm of publicity. There are pieces in the Times, the other Times, and the Guardian to pick the first three I could find. The WorldNut Daily even ran a poll with… well… “interesting” responses.

What’s even more annoying is that this has happened before. (more…)

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Even if the LHC won’t destroy the world, that’s no reason to not have an end of the world party!

Hat tip to Blake Stacey.

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