P.S.: And don’t worry. This is not really going to happen (in Italian).
Archive for LHC
… but were afraid to ask.
Hat tip to Dorigo, for pointing out in his blog the video above, an LHC rap shoot on location at CERN. At least from a first view the text is way more accurate and to the point than most divulgative articles about the machine and experiments in recent newspapers (no sweat, you may say, but still…).
In case you’re still curious (and still don’t dare to ask), I’d like to mention this public information site about LHC, including an LHC blog (watch out for news) and webcams (you can even have a look at what’s going on in the Atlas control room).
The world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate hunger. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for such an effort in order to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food.
This reminded me of a discussion I had last week, during a visit of local politicians to CERN installations. During the discussion, a kind lady made a comment I must have heard a number of times:
“What you’re doing here is fascinating, but when I think about the amount of money needed to realize all that, I wonder whether it could not be used for a better task. You know, with all the people dying of hunger in the third world…”
Yes, I’ve asked myself the same question, a few times. And yes, I have given myself answers. But I won’t provide these to you. I’ll just tell you some facts, some of which I just checked up today:
– The annual budget of CERN is about 1 billion dollar per year.
– The total cost of the LHC is estimated to about 6 billion dollars.
– The direct official cost of the Iraq war to the US administration is 845 billion dollars up to date. In a recent book, the Nobel laureate Stiglitz had evaluated the total cost to the US economy to 3000 billion dollars. A very conservative estimate, he claims.
When somebody ask a physicist today about what practical use one can make of the potential discoveries of an experiment like LHC, there’s only one possible answer: “We don’t know (yet)”. The same answer Faraday apparently gave to Gladstone, then British minister of finances, who was asking him about the practical use of electricity. “But I guess one day the government would put a tax on it.” , he added.
We indeed know a bit more about the practical uses of electricity today. I guess I don’t need to remind you what the practical use of a bomber is.
I hope the information I provided can help somebody to decide whether the money invested in fundamental science is a good value for money or not. Everyone, of course, will have his own opinion. I think I’ll stick to mine.
Last Saturday and Sunday CERN had opened its doors, giving to the general public a chance to visit the laboratory, and especially the underground areas, where the access will be limited after the LHC startup.
Therefore, like many other people in CERN, I have devoted the last week-end to the Open Day 2008.
In fact on Saturday I was guiding people around the CLIC test facility, whose commissioning is an essential part of my job. On Sunday my contribution was less direct (if not less tiring), since I was taking care
of my two-year old son all day, while my wife was acting as a guide to the CMS experiment underground installation, where she works, and giving a talk about CERN in a nearby village.
Today I was sent an e-mail, like the other 1500 or so volunteers, with the official numbers for the Open Day participation:
On Saturday, 5 April: 23,000 visitors to the various sites, of which 11,000 to the tunnel and underground caverns.
On Sunday, 6 April: 53,000 visitors to the various sites, including 20,000 to the underground areas.
Indeed, many visitors had to patiently wait for their turn, sometimes for a few hours. And some had to be sent to different, less busy, locations. In spite of that apparently most of them went away deeply satisfied from the visit.
What can I say? I think I should feel privileged to be among the few – with the possible exception of employees of the Louvre museum – who work in a place where other people are willing to suffer hours of queue just to have a quick look around.
P.S.: And nobody asked me anything about black holes, either.
I have to confess you one thing. I am lazy. Really lazy. Everybody who knows me well enough can confirm. And, being lazy, I tend to postpone things. So, when I saw this article on the New York Times, I thought I should write a post on it. Only, since at the time I was busy, I postponed. Then, when I actually had the time, I delayed it again. Then I discovered that half the blogs in my blogroll had already posted about it. And, on top of that, in reality, I had already talked about the matter in this post, before the New York Times article was published. So, I decided to give it up. Even if, indeed, working at CERN and being the only blogger not writing about it was quite a shame. But, what the hell, why waste time on it, when there wasn’t much I could possibly add to dozens of other posts? (Did I tell you that I’m lazy, by chance?)
However, today I come across an aspect of the matter that I thought deserved a small effort. But you would have to wait until the end of the post to know it. Before that, I want just give you the useful pieces of information I wanted to publish in the first place.
No, the earth will not go down the drain of a black hole generated in the LHC. There are lots of reasons why it won’t happen. But the more basic one, and the easier to understand, is that particle collisions like the ones that will be obtained in the LHC (if we’ll make it work, which is another matter altogether…) are happening all the time around us, and had happened since quite some time already. Cosmic rays (in fact particles) with energies reaching values much higher than the LHC could ever dream to obtain, collide every day with protons and nuclei both on earth and other planets. The only reason to build LHC instead of studying these same events is this: Cosmic ray collisions have the somewhat irritating habit of happening all over the place, and not nicely pile up in a detector just to please a bunch of impatient physicists. Dirty little scoundrels that they are – the particles, I mean. Anyway, since the earth, the moon and other planets are still in their place since quite some time, we are safe (well, from this danger at least). Black holes, if ever they are created in particle collisions, either evaporate fast and nicely as this guy Hawking predicted, or interact so weakly as to pose no real threat.
I would add another useful bit of info as well. A short biography of Dr. Wagner, apparently written by himself as a host of this radio show:
Walter Wagner graduated UC Berkeley with a Minor in Physics, and a Major in Biology. Later, he discovered a novel particle in a balloon-borne cosmic ray detector, initially identified as a magnetic monopole. Though its identity remains uncertain, it is definitely not within the standard repertoire of known particles. After a three-year break from science to attend law school, Dr. Wagner resumed work in Physics and Biology at the US Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Francisco, working in Nuclear Medicine and Health Physics. He then embarked on teaching Science and Mathematics, from grade school to college. Dr. Wagner developed a botanical garden in Hawaii, and continues involvement with several professional associations, including Health Physics Society and Society of Nuclear Medicine.
So, a biologist, a physicist and a lawyer. I indeed have no problem to believe the world could be saved by a physicist. Or even, stretching a bit the imagination, by a biologist. But nobody can make me believe that the world could possibly be saved by a lawyer.
What about the peculiar aspect I mentioned at the beginning – you didn’t forget about it, right?
Well, the fact is that the good old New York Times, thanks to an unfortunate misspelling, had involuntarily given birth to a new category of porn, as documented for instance here (nice WordPress theme, by the way).
But if black holes could in theory be generated in LHC, I’m not quite sure I want to know what can be the outcome of a Large Hardon Collider.
PS: The image on top was linked in a comment on one of the blogs in my blogroll, actually in conjunction with the LHC black hole business. What is actually depicted there, where I did find it and which ones among the blogs I link have dealt with this matter is left as an exercise to the interested reader.
Disappointingly, prompted by the unfortunate nickname of the Higgs boson (the God particle), the interviewer drove immediately the discussion towards religion. Therefore I missed the opportunity of knowing what kind of scientific output a leading scientist like Weinberg is expecting from our last big toy. I could however learn that Weinberg shares something else than the 1979 Nobel prize in physics with Sheldon Glashow: A hefty sense of humor, as shown in the brief excerpt below.
At some point will it be possible to find proof that God or the Ultimate Designer does not exist?
I don’t think that we can ever prove that God does not exist. But if he does exist it might be possible to prove it.
It might be?
Well, if God did exist and suddenly made himself known by sending thunderbolts to all the people who don’t believe in him [Laughs], that would be pretty strong evidence that he exists.
Do you think he would send you one?
He hasn’t so far.
I had also found very interesting the following passage:
…People who expect to find evidence of divine action in nature, in the origin of the universe or in the laws that govern matter, are probably going to be disappointed.
Are they also going to be disappointed about our position in nature, our purpose?
We don’t see any purpose dictated to human beings in nature. Human life does have a purpose, but it is a purpose that we invent for ourselves. It takes a certain act of courage to look at nature, not see any plan for human beings in there and yet go on and live good lives, love each other, create beautiful things, explore the universe. All these take more courage without having some divine plan that we discover, but one that we rather create for ourselves.
Well, I haven’t learned anything new about the LHC physics, but I don’t feel like I’ve completely wasted my time.
P.S.: Back to lighter matter, fresh from today xkcd, alternative uses of LHC:
All sort of rumors about the supposed dangers of LHC operation can be found on the web. A few years ago, the possibility of producing black holes, strangelets and whatnots during proton-proton collisions was put forward, and CERN itself had to commission a report and publish it on its own website, in order to reassure public opinion. However, as the start-up deadline approaches, these rumors are getting stronger and one can watch a good collection of millennialism addicts showing off on YouTube on the subject.
If you wish, you can find as well a few sites conducing a self-righteous campaign against LHC.
Don’t look at them too long if you are easily impressionable, though. I did yesterday and after I while I was feeling uneasy. This guy almost managed to scare me. True, at some point he stated that his credibility was supported by his discovery of a magnetic monopole in 1975. And I must admit I felt somewhat reassured by such a claim.
In any case, a new possibility had recently been added to the panoply of potential exotic scientific outcomes of LHC experiments. LHC could prove to be a time machine of a sort. Unfortunately, practical applications are excluded for the moment.
Shame. LHC could have been the first large particle accelerator to start its first experimental run well within the original schedule. Retroactively.