Blog Report.

Blog Report.

In the past six months European Agency for Nuclear Research (CERN) has completed repairs on, and now begun the largest scientific undertaking in history.
Devised by 6000 of the best scientific minds the Large Hardron Collider (LHC) seeks to broaden understanding of particle physics and discover what gives matter mass, and explain effects like gravity.
The Agency have built the largest machine in history, and 100 meters under the Franco Swiss border have pushed forward the boundaries of science and engineering to bring its Large Hadron Collider on line.
The project has faced many problems both scientific and terrestrial in the form of terrorist concerns, power failures and the spiraling cost of repairs and preparations for the experiment. From the faulty welding that caused the massive helium leak in September 2008, the masses of repairs needed to the machinery, to its successful restart and subsequently becoming the highest powered particle accelerator in history.

Media coverage of the topic has similarly run the gamut from rampantly opinionated in blogs, to terror inducing reports of  the worlds immanent destruction by CERN created black holes to reports laughing at the theories that have sprung up around the experiment. With an undertaking like this the boundaries of what is being done and what it hopes to achieve blur. Due to the scale of the project is moves beyond mere science and can be seen to challenge our understanding of how physics works and the universe in which we live; it takes on an  almost supernatural standing, both in what it hopes to achieve, and in the fear it can create. But there is humor as well, in both the coverage, and in peoples reactions to the event. Indeed, some of the theories proposed by those involved in the experiment borders on comical. And depending on whether the experiment excites or terrifies you the media have been there to keep you informed through out its journey. The Agency itself has kept a strong internet presence with regular video posts and a continual monthly newsletter sent out to keep the public informed and to foster understanding of the project, its status and what it hopes to achieve.

Fear inducing.

It is natural for people to fear what they do not understand. And with the largest scientific undertaking by our man kind it follows that not everybody will have an intricate knowledge of particle physics and the effect that discovery of the  Higgs Boson Particle would have, or why we should even question it.

Most people fear the earth could be reduced to a singularity by a black hole created in the heart of the experiment. This is based on a misconception. The scientists involved are unsure if black holes will even be created, let alone of a size to destroy the planet. But because this is difficult to understand, people are naturally afraid.

There have been reports which have used this natural fear. This fear due to the complexity of the project was compounded when coupled with the current threat of terrorism in August.

When headlines include in the same sentence terrorist suspect and a nuclear research facility, it is understandable that people read such headlines ‘TERRORIST suspect at NUCLEAR research FACILITY’ those words do tend to leap out at you from the screen. In fact the headlines did not warrant the fear they no doubt caused and it is particularly telling that CERN reacted with one of the suspects team members commenting that the most dangerous material he would have had access to was a hammer. The scientist, Adlene Hicheur did not even work for CERN he was a contractor with another company who was working on the CERN project. World Radio Switzerland covered the story very well, with balance and a clear head. Pointing out initially that the suspect was in custody while the police decided to continue investigations or to drop the case.
Juxtapose this with the coverage of  The Jamestown foundation, an international terrorist watch group, reported differently stating that the scientist in question Adlene Hicheur had exchanged emails with high ranking members of the North African al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM ). While the scientist did exchange emails, and he appears to  have agreed to help the al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the fears triggered in headlines was unwarranted.  There is no connection between his work at CERN and any terrorist threat, in fact he wasn’t even a CERN employee!

While it seems some news agencies focus on the negative, there is much media out there that tries to foster understanding of the project. It’s no small feat to try to explain the greatest scientific undertaking of our species to anyone with out advanced scientific or engineering training.

Fostering understanding.

In an attempt to explain the experiment, there has been much content that use humour to communicate the complex experiment for the lay-person. Much of this content originated, or is recirculated on CERN has utilized the site well, creating its own channel CERNTV. The Agency’s videos have been watched by more than 2 million people. Their content varies from documentary style pieces that explain the experiment, to brief news item style pieces with news of the experiment first in its repairs, and now as it is underway.
A large number of videos are available on about the Large Hadron Collider. Many posts have been documentaries created by other media outlets that further discourse on the subject and others which take the project less seriously.

One of the finest examples of this is the LHC Rap posted by alpinekat:

Alpinekat is in fact science writer Katherine Alpine and the rap she posted on youtube ( embedded above) a great post that makes the experiment accessible to the greater public by use of popular music and humor.

The BBC has also kept up a good media coverage of the experiment through the Science & Environment section of its news site.

The BBC has had many stories on its website, and these have been supported by great visual images. On 20 November 2009 the site posted a story that particularly stood out with a slide show that tracks the history of CERN and the LHC experiment in pictures. The slide show is supported with brief stories outlining the nature of the science that they are exploring and it goes a long way to explain the scale of the experiment by outlining some of the computing requirements of the project. This guide provides an easy to use interface with a comprehensive lay guide to the project.

Impenetrably scientific.

It is inevitable whenever humans are expanding the boundaries of knowledge on any topic that people will find it difficult to understand. This is double so when it is the boundaries of already advanced particle physics.

Much of the media concerning the LHC experiment has been written for the everyday ‘Joe Public’ and it is interesting to see how this varies between very basic and quite advanced, even though coverage is aimed at the same audience. The String theory is one that now matter how simply it is explained still seems impenetrable to the uninitiated.

ALICE the machine at the heart of the experiment.

Even the literature produced by the Agency itself at the CERN site is quite detailed in its explanations. So detailed as to be confusing. But the material itself isn’t so confusing as the range of information that is available to the public through the site.

The site breaks down the experiment stage by stage and outlines each of the components involved, and the variety of separate part of the experiment that are taking place. From the TOTEM (TOTal Elastic and diffractive cross section Measurement) which is in fact a separate experiment running in conjunction with the LHC to measure the output of the collider. To the main attraction ALICEthat will generate temperatures 100 000 times hotter than the sun.

Some of the most far fetched articles have come from scientists themselves. A theory was put forward that the project was plagued with such set backs as the initial helium leak that shut the project down, to the delays with the repairs and start date of the project. Two physicist put forward an idea that the Higg-Boson Particle that the project hopes to create and detect are so abhorrent to nature, or in fact ‘God’ that the project was being shut down by ripples of space time preventing the particles creation. The particle physics equivalent of the classic time travel paradox of killing your own grandfather.


The journey that the Large Hadron Collider has taken in the space of little over a year from being shut down to creating history by being the largest and highest powered machine created by humans, is literally astronomical.

The project and what it hopes to achieve is so closely related to everyone on this planet, but its enormity is difficult to communicate. It has created fear, and awe in equal measure.

In fact the project is of such a scale that the lines blur and it extends beyond mere science. The scale of the project and the engineering involved in its creation have set marks in history. What its findings could mean verge on religious.

CERN and its experiments have had so many effects on the world already, giving us astounding leaps forward in technology. The internet was created to transfer the vast streams of data created by experiments! As well as advances in medical imaging and X-ray imaging technology.

The most exciting thing about this experiment is that it is something we as a species can look to. This is the most science we have ever even dared to try. We are literally pushing forward our knowledge of the universe and our place in it.

With the project only just restarted, the machinery is still running at reduced power, and further discoveries will be made. The power will be increased, and the collisions will continue, and our knowledge will grow.


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From broken to the worlds most powerful machine, in little over a year!

Worlds Largest Particle Collider Back In Action: NPR, December 14 2009.

“The mood at CERN has been a bit of a roller coaster over the last year, year-and-a-half. There was obviously a tremendous amount of anticipation and excitement ahead of the startup. And then of course there was a big depression a few days later when there was this big electrical fault,” says Ellis. But, lately a different emotion has set in: “I think the appropriate phrase is: ‘grim determination’ to get it right this time,” John Ellis says. Read more here.

And a really interesting insight to the man who is in charge of the whole affair. The quotes convey some passion for the project. Plus I had no idea Canada was involved!

European physics lab boss in flash visit to discuss research, December 13 2009.

Canada is heavily involved at CERN already. The NRC provides funding, and Carleton University physicists work there and built equipment for one of the major experiments. CERN also draws scientists from the universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Toronto, Regina, Victoria, Universite de Montreal, McGill, Simon Fraser, and TRIUMF, our national particle physics lab. Read more here.

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Really interesting Interview.

Higgs is a man and a particle?

NRC Handelsblad (international) 3 December 2009.

Another metaphor is that of the US president making his entry at a party. When Obama (a very heavy particle) enters the room, the commotion caused by his arrival (the Higgs particle) spreads quickly and draws everybody in his direction. Because of all the people now flocking around him (the Higgs field) Obama is no longer able to move through the room quickly. He is far slower than the relatively unknown Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, a much lighter particle in this metaphor. Read more Here.

On again off again., 3 December 2009.

Spokeswoman Renilde Vanden Broeck, who explained a cable fault caused the failure in the 18 kV power supply network, which affected mainly the Meyrin site where the LHC is located, and in particular the injectors and the Computing Centre but not the LHC cryogenics. “The network was back up by 10:30 a.m. As there were knock-on effects it took time to get everything back up (the LHC etc. is a complex electrical system),” she wrote. “Power cuts are not that rare around here. There was again beam in the machine at 10:30 p.m. last night.” Read more Here.

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What a great idea for a book, and what a great idea to get kids into science.

Particle physics pop-up

Physics central blog, November 9 2009.

Stumped by what to get for that picky particle physics buff on your Hannukah list? You’re in luck. CERN is about to debut a technolust-inspiring souvenir that’s science lesson and work of art all in one: a pop-up book of the ATLAS detector. Folded between its covers are Geneva, both above ground and 100 meters below, the Big Bang, and the complex architecture of ATLAS. Read more here.

We started so well! And then we stopped.

I like the tone of the next two articles, one quite gregarious and comical, the other brief and understated, all suitably unbelieving I feel.

Large Hadron Collider scuttled by birdy baguette-bomber

The, November 5 2009.

Exclusive A bird dropping a piece of bread onto outdoor machinery has been blamed for a technical fault at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) this week which saw significant overheating in sections of the mighty particle-punisher’s subterranean 27-km supercooled magnetic doughnut. Read more here.

CERNS LHC Conked by bread., November 6 2009.

Mumbai: Well, this is yet another big project facing a small, very small problem. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) failed to perform as a piece of bread choked its cooling unit. Read more here.

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It begins again!

Finally they are running test beams through the accelerator. At this stage all things seem to be going well and the accelerator should start up again next week!

The Cosmic Countdown in Geneva Goes On

New York Times, October 31 2009.

This work, conducted during the past week, was the first time protons have traveled in the giant particle accelerator since last September when the first attempts to turn on the $6-billion machine ended in a fury of sparks and smoke. The engineers also ran lead ions around part of the machine for the first time; they will eventually be collided in hopes of producing a so-called quark-gluon plasma. Read more here.

Large Hadron Collider ready to roll again… unless god stops it., November 2  2009

A little more than a year after its ill-fated debut, the Large Hadron Collider is getting ready to roll again. The controversial device, including an 18-mile circular tunnel — bigger than the London Underground’s Circle Line — is housed in the gigantic CERN laboratory in the Jura mountains just outside of Geneva, on the border of France and Switzerland. Using the particle collider, the largest ever built, would allow scientists to re-create conditions that existed a trillionth of a second after the big bang, as well as prove the existence of the spooky “Higgs boson” entity, also called the “God Particle” which give “things” (including living things like you and me) their mass. It is further anticipated to solve the mystery of “dark matter” and shed light on many other quirky physics conundrums. Read more here.

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Happy Halloween!

New theory could help CERN

Insciences Organisation website, October 30 2009.

Hopefully the Physicists can follow it, it’s a bit too difficult for me to follow it all.

Superstring theory aims to explain the laws of physics from extremely small strings in various states. Theoretical superstring theory is therefore normally not considered to be particularly relevant for practical particle physics experiments. However two researchers at the Niels Bohr International Academy have, together with a colleague from the French research institute Saclay, shown how superstring theory can be used to infer relations between processes, which can also be studied at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the experiment at CERN. The results are published in Physical Review Letters. Read more here.

Terrorist scientist?

Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 32. October 30 2009.

As speculation around his “nuclear” connections died down, focus instead turned to the fact that a seemingly well integrated member of French society could be attracted to AQIM’s violently anti-Western rhetoric. Unlike many of the other individuals incarcerated or otherwise detained in France on terrorism charges, Dr. Hicheur was a prominent and active member of the European scientific community, respected by his colleagues and part of a large, religious and well integrated family. In his home of Vienne, France, he was apparently held up as something of a local celebrity thanks to his impressive academic achievements. Read more here.

Finish with a Joke!

Some of you may remember that great game Half Life?

Well, so does the rest of the internets, and here is a brilliant little blog post, that is surprisingly accurate, CERN does look lust like the games Black Mesa test site. Crowbars at the ready!

Check it out here.

That’s your treat, and now the trick:

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Dude, sweet!

Black hole effects, now sans black hole!

Before you start getting concerned that the planet will soon be swallowed up by a rampaging singularity, the black hole in question isn’t the gravitational behemoth you might find after a supernova or in the center of the Milky Way. This particular table-top black hole mimics the curvature of space-time, creating a fabricated event horizon that swallows electromagnetic radiation at microwave wavelengths.
Read more here.
Space disco, discovery channel blog, 15 October 2009.

We welcome our Romulan overlords!

A black hole is essentially a mass which is so large and condensed, and with such a large gravitational pull that its escape velocity exceeds the speed of light! For Earth, the escape velocity is around 11km/second, as such any object moving faster than this speed will be able to escape the pull of Earth and will end up in space. In a black hole, the gravitation pull is large enough, that light, even at the speed of 299792458km/second is too slow to escape, and ends up in trapped in the black hole.
Read more here.
Think Digit, 18 October 2009.

Science fictions meets teh cold hard light of science fact

In normal physics, nothing can move faster than the speed of light. Einstein’s theory of relativity forbids it. In normal space any object approaching the speed of light will increase in mass exponentially, and require an exponential increase in the amount of power needed to propel it forward. Read more here.
Space disco, 11 June 2009.

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