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Posts Tagged ‘Large Hadron Collider

I, for one, have always wanted to know…


Readers will know the Large Hadron Collider, the massive particle accelerator built to answer such questions as “Is there a ‘God Particle” (Higgs Boson)?”  The LHC accelerates two counter-rotating beams of protons to nearly the speed of light and then brings them into collision inside giant, cathedral-sized detectors that study the subatomic debris that comes flying outward.  The folks at CERN, who operate the LHC, hold the world’s record for the highest energies ever achieved: the collisions of more than 10 billion protons per bunch at a total energy of 2.36 trillion electron volts, or TeV, per collision.

But the LHC raises as many questions as it hopes to answer…

Who hasn’t wondered, for example, what happens if one puts one’s hand in front of the beam?  Happily (if not conclusively), the folks at Sixty Symbols have gathered some answers:

As we think hard about wearing gloves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that a number of meteor fragments fell near Murchison, in Victoria, Australia.  Analysis of the fragments has identified over 14,000 compounds in the carbonaceous chondrite; almost 100 of them, different amino acids, only 19 of which are found on earth…  encouraging proponents of “panspermia”– the proposition that life on earth was “jump-started” when key ingredients in the primordial soup dropped in from the Heavens.

Murchison fragment

First Takes…

The very first photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who aimed a camera obscura, which held a polished pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), out the window of the upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Varennes country house, Le Gras. After a day-long exposure, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum, which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was this permanent direct positive picture– a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter:

(For more on Niépce and the story of his pioneering accomplishment, visit the source of this photo, the site of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.)

But in many ways as interesting as the first photo of anything is the first photo of a specific thing.  OObject has curated a collection of a dozen of the most interesting “firsts,” from the first photo of a human face

Self portrait of Robert Cornelius, 1839

… to the first photo on the web

Les Horribles Cernettes (LHC... pun intended*), a band at CERN (where Tim Berners-Lee "created" the web), 1992

More– from the first photo of the whole earth and the first x-ray to the first color photo and the first picture of the surface of another planet– at OObject.

As we say “cheese,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that George Gershwin signed his name to the completed orchestral score of the opera Porgy and Bess. The composer considered the 700-page work his masterpiece; many critics agree, considering this first American opera to be the finest American opera.

From the title page of the manuscript score (source: Library of Congress)


I was expecting… well, a deep, booming voice…

Readers will recall the effort at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider to discover the Higg’s Boson— “The God Particle.”  The Telegraph reports that while the search for the sub-atomic fugitive continues, scientists have determined that, when it is created at the Swiss supercollider– if it is created— ” it will sound like several coins clattering around the bowl of a wine glass.”


Scientists used information from computer models to calculate what the creation of the particle will sound like, a process called “sonification”.

LHC Sound, a group of scientists, musicians and artists in London, has used data on the particles and matched it to qualities such as pitch and volume to determine how the collision will sound.

Dr Lily Asquith, who models data for the LHC and has contributed to the sound project, wrote on her blog: “Sound seems the perfect tool with which to represent the complexity of the data.

“Our ears are superb at locating the source and location of sounds relative to one another … We also have an incredible ability to notice slight changes in pitch or tempo over time and to recognise patterns in sound after hearing them just once.”

Read the full report here.

As we reinterpret the soundtracks of our lives, we might recall that it was on this date in 1742, in a letter to Leonhard Euler, that Christian Goldbach outlined his famous proposition, now know as “Goldbach’s Conjecture”:

Every even natural number greater than 2 is equal to the sum of two prime numbers.

It has been checked by computer for vast numbers– up to at least 4 x 1014– but remains unproved.

Goldbach’s letter to Euler (source, and larger view)

God to “God Particle” hunters: “Forget it”…

The Baguette Incident (source: foxypar4/flickr, via PopSci)

Pity the poor Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, built to find the Higgs Boson— the “God Particle.”  It just can’t seem to find its feet.

First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a piece of bread droped by a bird on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.

The bird dropped some bread on an outdoor section of the gigantic device, eventually leading to significant over heating in parts of the accelerator. The LHC was not operational at the time of the incident, but the spike produced so much heat that had the beam been on, automatic fail-safes would have shut it down.

Was the baguette an accident?  Two scientists have theorized that the LHC is sabotaging itself from the future, to prevent mankind discovering the elusive Higgs Boson particle (link to paper at arXiv.org here); others have sued to shut down the LHC “before it destroys the world.”

More, at PopSci.com.

As we spin the arrow of time, we might recall that first Flying Trapeze act was performed in Paris on this date in 1859 by Jules Leotard (who also designed the garment that bears his name).

Jules Leotard

The link missing in yesterday’s post– to the physics paper suggesting that the Large Hadron Collider may be sabotaging itself from the future– is restored.  Apologies.

Written by LW

November 12, 2009 at 1:01 am

Stepping on the scale(s)…

In their introduction to the book version of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, Philip and Phyllis Morrison wrote elegantly of the importance of the evolution of the tools of science to scientific progress.  It’s the continuous improvement in these “instruments of vision” that pushes back the frontiers of knowledge, and allow us to know, and ultimately to understand, more and more of the universe around us.

The frontiers of this vision are at the extremes of scale– the very small and the very large.  Readers have recently visited the territory of the tiny, where the Large Hadron Collider is at work finding the smallest (at least for now) of the small.  Today we turn to the very large– and the very distant…

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) was the most ambitious astronomical survey ever undertaken.  Over an eight-year period, an array of the world’s most sophisticated astronomical resources have been devoted to mapping and imaging the cosmos.  In the first five years, Phase One,

SDSS-I imaged more than 8,000 square degrees of the sky in five bandpasses, detecting nearly 200 million celestial objects, and it measured spectra of more than 675,000 galaxies, 90,000 quasars, and 185,000 stars. These data have supported studies ranging from asteroids and nearby stars to the large scale structure of the Universe.

Phase Two is addressing “fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe, the origin of galaxies and quasars, and the formation and evolution of our own Galaxy, the Milky Way.”

While we wait for those answers (peer-reviewed journals take their time :-), we can share the wonder…  an extraordinary gallery– SkyServer— is available online.  Our SDSS hosts:  “We would like to show you the beauty of the universe, and share with you our excitement as we build the largest map in the history of the world. ”

See them all (or as many as time allows… it is, after all, the biggest map in history) here.  And check out the Hubble Space Telescope’s peeks into deepest space here.

As we crane our necks, we might wish a stylish birthday to Edith Head, Hollywood wardrobe mistress and costume designer extraordinaire; she was born (Edith Claire Posener) on this date in 1897, in Searchlight, Nevada.  Ms. Head, who was nominated for the Oscar 35 times, and won eight (more than any other woman), had this sensible advice: “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”


Edith Head and Pixar’s homage: Edna Mode in The Incredibles (source)

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