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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Few Interesting things about Large Hadron Collider(LHC)

Any way you look at it, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the biggest scientific experiment of all time.

It's essentially an expensive ($10 billion) tunnel that runs for 17 circular miles deep underneath the Franco-Swiss border. Within this tunnel, 10,000 scientists and engineers from almost 100 countries have built a machine that will accelerate two beams of protons in opposite directions, then smash them into each other in the hopes that the results will give them a glimpse of the universe less than a billionth of one second after the Big Bang.

Since September 2008, the LHC -- and by extension, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that runs it -- has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, ever since damage from a helium leak delayed the machine's planned launch. There was also that news of a scientist employed by an outside institute to work on the LHC being arrested on suspicion of having ties to al-Qaeda. Allegedly, the man had only progressed to the point of wanting to blow up something; he hadn't actually collected his supplies yet.

The LHC was fired up in November 2009 and on November 23rd, the first proton-proton collision was recorded. On March 30, 2010, the first planned collision occurred creating the highest energy reached by a particle accelerator.

Here are five things you didn't know about the Large Hadron Collider.

1- The Large Hadron Collider is kept colder than outer space

The first thing you didn’t know about the LHC is that it's the world’s largest fridge.

Accelerating charged particles like protons requires a powerful magnetic field, one that can only be produced by using magnets that are first cooled with liquid hydrogen and then supercooled with superfluid helium. Together, this cryogenic distribution system lowers the magnets to an astonishingly cold -456.34F (-271.3C), a temperature slightly colder than that of deep outer space (-454F/-270C). The niobium-titanium cables in the magnets are so cold that they lose all their electrical resistance and become superconducting magnets.

These superconducting magnets create a magnetic field with the force necessary to accelerate the proton beams to 99.9999991% of the speed of light -- the speed at which they collide.

2- The Large Hadron Collider may be trying to sabotage itself

Particle physicists can be divided into two groups: theoretical physicists and experimental physicists. One thinks while the other does, and each figures the other for a chump. Nobel laureate and experimental physicist Leon Lederman once wrote: “If I occasionally neglect to cite a theorist, it’s not because I’ve forgotten, it’s probably because I hate him.”

This disdain is easy to understand after reading the recent work of Holger Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya. As physicists work around the clock to fix the LHC, these two theoretical physicists have offered, as their primary contribution, the following reason for why the LHC is not working: From the moment of the Big Bang, God/nature has hated the fundamental particle researchers hope to create with the LHC -- the so-called Higgs Boson -- with a passion. In fact, it hates it so much that it has sent a Higgs particle into the future in order to kill the machine intent on discovering it.

3- The Large Hadron Collider could win Stephen Hawking his Nobel Prize

For years, celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking has suffered from a severe impediment, one that almost never strikes his peers: Hawking is a best-selling author.

His 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, introduced millions to the basics behind black holes, those astro-toilets with gravitational fields so mighty not even light can avoid the flush. Such unbridled commercial success arrested his credibility in the scientific community the way ALS has paralyzed his body; however, with some luck the LHC could change all that.

In 1974, Hawking published a paper in Nature called "Black Hole Explosions?" predicting that the death of a black hole would produce a burst of thermal radiation (now called Hawking radiation). Should the LHC, as some fear, create a mini black hole (the odds aren't very good) and it dies according to prediction, many agree that it would earn Hawking the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Curiously, Hawking radiation is so widely accepted that scientists at CERN actually used it in a 2003 safety report to dismiss the danger of mini black holes, writing "any microscopic black holes produced at the LHC are expected to decay by Hawking radiation before they reach the detector walls."

4- The Large Hadron Collider contained the hottest spot in the solar system

The superfluid helium within the LHC's superconducting magnets lowers the temperature inside the beam pipes to a chilly -456.34F (-271.3C), but there will be moments within those pipes when the weather changes -- drastically.

Prior to March 2010, officials expected two proton beams to collide 600 million times every second; each collision was expected to create temperatures estimated to be about 100,000 times hotter than the temperature at the core of our sun, which normally runs at around 15,000,000 Kelvin. That equates to a scorching 27 trillion F (1.5 trillion C), so it's fortunate that those moments won't last more than about one trillionth of one second.

5- The Large Hadron Collider relies on Einstein's famous equation

The last thing you didn't know about the LHC is that it won't violate the laws of nature.

Albert Einstein's famous 1905 mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2, revolutionized the way we see the world. Its applications are everywhere including nuclear weapons, in which a mass, such as a lump of Plutonium, is converted into energy. The LHC relies on the same equation, though inverted to m=E/c2 .

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