Posts about CERN

Explaining the Higgs Boson Particle Again

comic illustration explaining the Higgs-boson particle

Excerpt from Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham – go see the entire illustration.

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Science Matters

Google is a company that values science. The Google magazine, Think Quarterly, has an interesting interview with Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN: The Light Fantastic. He discusses, among other things the recent experimental results that seemed to indicate neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light:

“The world is moving so quickly that people are asking for answers when we don’t have the question yet,” Professor Heuer admits. Even worse, in this economic climate, “They are asking, ‘Why do we need science? We should take care of our immediate problems first.’ But if people in past decades had thought that way, we wouldn’t have the society we have today. Everything depends on science – this is what we need to communicate to people. I think it’s working because the general public is realizing not just how fascinating science can be, but what can come out of science in terms of knowledge and, at some stage, the betterment of society.”

The answer, perhaps, lies in rediscovering the roots of science – in using the FTL [Faster than Light] breakthrough to go back to the future. “I want to encourage the interest of artists in our work,” the professor reveals. “After all, at the very beginning, art and science started as the same thing. Bring them back together and the public might say, ‘Oh, this is how you can see science.’ Once people start talking about it, you have progress in understanding and accepting it.”

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Faster Than Light Speed Anomaly Reported by CERN

The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit. Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny. The collaboration’s result is available on the preprint server

The OPERA measurement is at odds with well-established laws of nature, though science frequently progresses by overthrowing the established paradigms. For this reason, many searches have been made for deviations from Einstein’s theory of relativity, so far not finding any such evidence. The strong constraints arising from these observations makes an interpretation of the OPERA measurement in terms of modification of Einstein’s theory unlikely, and give further strong reason to seek new independent measurements.

“This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”

“When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.” This is a great reminder of the proper application of the scientific inquiry process. Our understanding moves forward based on evidence and incredible results require a high burden of proof before we accept them.

In order to perform this study, the OPERA Collaboration teamed up with experts in metrology from CERN and other institutions to perform a series of high precision measurements of the distance between the source and the detector, and of the neutrinos’ time of flight. The distance between the origin of the neutrino beam and OPERA was measured with an uncertainty of 20 cm over the 730 km travel path. The neutrinos’ time of flight was determined with an accuracy of less than 10 nanoseconds by using sophisticated instruments including advanced GPS systems and atomic clocks. The time response of all elements of the CNGS beam line and of the OPERA detector has also been measured with great precision.

“We have established synchronization between CERN and Gran Sasso that gives us nanosecond accuracy, and we’ve measured the distance between the two sites to 20 centimetres,” said Dario Autiero, the CNRS researcher who will give this afternoon’s seminar. “Although our measurements have low systematic uncertainty and high statistical accuracy, and we place great confidence in our results, we’re looking forward to comparing them with those from other experiments.”

“The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations. My first reaction is that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries.” said Ereditato. “Today’s seminar is intended to invite scrutiny from the broader particle physics community.”

The OPERA experiment was inaugurated in 2006, with the main goal of studying the rare transformation (oscillation) of muon neutrinos into tau neutrinos. One first such event was observed in 2010, proving the unique ability of the experiment in the detection of the elusive signal of tau neutrinos.

This is great stuff, wether it turns out to be an amazing result that changes our understanding of physics or even if it doesn’t (if it turns out the apparent result is not what it seems). It is great to see us attempt to learn. My guess is that we find some explanation for the anomaly that does avoids something traveling faster than the speed of light.

Brian Cox on the BBC 6: “This is the way science works, we go away and do it again and check, and then do it again and check. If it is confirmed then it will be the most significant discovery in physics in the last, at least, 100 years.”

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5% of the Universe is Normal Matter, What About the Other 95%?

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Great discussion and illustration of the state of our understanding of physics, matter, dark matter and the rest of the stuff our universe has from PhD comics. What is the universe made of? 5% of it is normal matter (the stardust we are made of), 20% dark matter and the other 75% – we have no idea!

Dark Cosmos is a nice book on some of these ideas. It is 5 years old so missing some of the latest discoveries.

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Incident in LHC Sector 34

Incident in LHC sector 34

During commissioning (without beam) of the final LHC sector (sector 34) at high current for operation at 5 TeV, an incident occurred at mid-day on Friday 19 September resulting in a large helium leak into the tunnel. Preliminary investigations indicate that the most likely cause of the problem was a faulty electrical connection between two magnets, which probably melted at high current leading to mechanical failure. CERN ’s strict safety regulations ensured that at no time was there any risk to people.

A full investigation is underway, but it is already clear that the sector will have to be warmed up for repairs to take place. This implies a minimum of two months down time for LHC operation. For the same fault, not uncommon in a normally conducting machine, the repair time would be a matter of days.

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Friday Fun – CERN Version

Enjoy. Ok, you might not want to go download this groups other tracks (if you do there aren’t any, by the way) but it is a fun LHC adventure. By Katherine McAlpine and others at CERN.

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Symptom of America’s Decline in Particle Physics

Land Of Big Science

Probing more deeply than ever before into the stuff of the universe requires some big hardware. It also requires the political will to lavish money on a project that has no predictable practical return, other than prestige and leadership in the branch of science that delivered just about every major technology of the past hundred years.

Those advances came, in large measure, from the United States. The coming decades may be different.

A third of the scientists working at the LHC hail from outside the 20 states that control CERN. America has contributed 1,000 or so researchers, the largest single contingent from any non-CERN nation.

The U.S. contribution amounts to $500 million—barely 5 percent of the bill. The big bucks have come from the Europeans. Germany is picking up 20 percent of the tab, the British are contributing 17 percent, and the French are giving 14 percent.

The most worrying prospect is that scientists from other countries, who used to flock to the United States to be where the action is, are now heading to Europe instead.

This is a point I have made before. The economic benefits of investing in science are real. The economic benefits of having science and engineering centers of excellence in your country are real. That doesn’t mean you automatically gain economic benefit but it is a huge advantage and opportunity if you act intelligently to make it pay off.

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Saving Fermilab

Fermilab was once the premiere particle physics research lab. It is still a very important research lab. But, I have said before, other countries are the ones making the larger efforts lately to invest in science and technology centers of excellence that the US was making in the 1960’s and 1970’s: Economic Strength Through Technology Leadership, Investing in Technology Excellence, etc..

I have also said that the past success of the US has left it in a still very strong position. For example, the anonymous donor that saved Fermilab with a $5 million donation likely benefited from the successful investments in science centers of excellence in the past (few countries – maybe 30, can rely on large donations from wealthy individuals, to sustain centers of excellence and I don’t think any approach what the USA has now – Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Standford, MIT…).

Excellent post on the the saving of Fermilab, To the person who saved Fermilab: Thank You.:

The facility has recently seen financial difficulties which have resulted in the layoffs of research staff and dramatic cuts in experiments. The world class research facility has been left to scrape together funds to pay the bills and has even had to auction off equipment and ask staff members to take pay cuts just to keep the lights on in the laboratories.

Fermilab also has an illustrious history of achievements in the field of supercomputer development and parallel processing. Fermilab has been on the forefront of applying supercomputing to physics research and is one of the top supercomputing centers of the world. Fermilab has claimed the world’s most powerful supercomputer on multiple occasions – although the title is rarely held long by any system due to the continuous advancements in computing. In recent years, Fermilab has been a leader in the development of “lattice” supercomputing systems and has developed methods for efficiently utilizing the power of multiple supercomputers in different locations through more [efficient] distribution practices.

To some, the construction of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN may seem to reduce the importance of Fermilab’s capabilities, but this is not at all the case. Although the LHC may take the title for the overall size and energy levels of a particle accelerator, Fermilab remains a uniquely capable particle physics research institution. Though less powerful, the Tevatron is able to operate for longer periods of time than the LHC and will likely require less downtime for maintenance, allowing for greater access and numerous types of research activities.

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Brian Cox Particle Physics Webcast

TED webcast of Brian Cox discussing his work at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. He does a very good job of explaining some of the basic science in understandable terms.

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At the Heart of All Matter

Large Hadron Collider at CERN

The hunt for the God particle by Joel Achenbach

Physics underwent one revolution after another. Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905) begat the general theory of relativity (1915), and suddenly even such reliable concepts as absolute space and absolute time had been discarded in favor of a mind-boggling space-time fabric in which two events can never be said to be simultaneous. Matter bends space; space directs how matter moves. Light is both a particle and a wave. Energy and mass are inter- changeable. Reality is probabilistic and not deterministic: Einstein didn’t believe that God plays dice with the universe, but that became the scientific orthodoxy.

Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it.

The Higgs boson is presumed to be massive compared with most subatomic particles. It might have 100 to 200 times the mass of a proton. That’s why you need a huge collider to produce a Higgs—the more energy in the collision, the more massive the particles in the debris. But a jumbo particle like the Higgs would also be, like all oversize particles, unstable. It’s not the kind of particle that sticks around in a manner that we can detect—in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second it will decay into other particles. What the LHC can do is create a tiny, compact wad of energy from which a Higgs might spark into existence long enough and vivaciously enough to be recognized.

Previous posts on CERN and the Higgs boson: The god of small thingsCERN Prepares for LHC OperationsCERN Pressure Test FailureThe New Yorker on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

New Yorker on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

Can a seventeen-mile-long collider unlock the universe?

A proton is a hadron composed of two up quarks and one down; a neutron consists of two downs and one up.) Fermions also include neutrinos, which, somewhat unnervingly, stream through our bodies at the rate of trillions per second.

The L.H.C., Doser explained, relies on much the same design, and, in fact, makes use of the tunnel originally dug for LEP. Instead of electrons and positrons, however, the L.H.C. will send two beams of protons circling in opposite directions. Protons are a good deal more massive than electrons—roughly eighteen hundred times more—which means they can carry more energy. For this reason, they are also much harder to manage.

“Basically, what you must have to accelerate any charged particles is a very strong electric field,” Doser said. “And the longer you apply it the more energy you can give them. In principle, what you’d want is an infinitely long linear structure, in which particles just keep getting pushed faster and faster. Now, because you can’t build an infinitely long accelerator, you build a circular accelerator.” Every time a proton makes a circuit around the L.H.C. tunnel, it will receive electromagnetic nudges to make it go faster until, eventually, it is travelling at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light. “It gets to a hair below the speed of light very rapidly, and the rest of the time is just trying to sliver down this hair.” At this pace, a proton completes eleven thousand two hundred and forty-five circuits in a single second.

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