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Life and Work On the LHC At CERN 81

Posted by kdawson
from the one-ordinary-day-with-teravolt-beams dept.
An anonymous reader sends in a CNet Crave interview with a working physicist at CERN. The interview is full of detail about what it's like to work in this geek paradise (if a bit dumbed-down for an audience assumed not very technical). Dr. Paul Jackson, a particle physicist working on the LHC's Atlas experiment, says there's no chance of black holes wiping us out, and that the time travel speculation is bunkum. He is 100% convinced that they will find the Higgs boson. The scientists there favor Macs, while computers in the control room are Linux-based. "What would happen if you were standing in front of the beam? You would die. It would be a pretty spectacular death, and you wouldn't know a lot about it. ... It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body."
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Life and Work On the LHC At CERN

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  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:19PM (#30246756)

    "It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body." jamie wants big boom

    • by swillden (191260)

      "It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body." jamie wants big boom

      LOL!

      I clicked through here specifically to post that. Whether or not it's "myth", it would make for a pretty cool Mythbusters episode. They could travel to CERN and tour the LHC, interview some scientists about the cool stuff going on there and then blow up a pig or two!

      It would be exceptionally cool if the guys at the LHC would let them blow up a pig by putting it into the particle stream, but I'm sure that would do too much damage to the LHC, which is having enough trouble as-is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by careysub (976506)

        "It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body." jamie wants big boom

        ... Whether or not it's "myth", it would make for a pretty cool Mythbusters episode. ...

        Looking at a description of the LHC beam dump system, it sounds like this sort of experiment could be arranged: http://lhc-machine-outreach.web.cern.ch/lhc-machine-outreach/components/beam-dump.htm [web.cern.ch].

        The beam dump is a 7 m long, 0.7 m wide graphite cylinder (about 5 tonnes) surrounded by a cooling system and several hundred tons of concrete and iron. The beam gets their by shooting down a 600 m tunnel after extraction from the ring. Normally this tunnel is filled with nitrogen at 1.2 atmospheres (since the c

        • So, perhaps 15 kg TNT of energy would be absorbed by several grams of tissue in a long stripe.

          The amount will be far, far less than that because it takes time for the hadronic shower produced by the protons to develop. Energy deposition is not linear but peaks at a distance into the material (this is why lower energy proton beams are used for treating brain tumours). So while you may end up dead, depending on what the beam hits or from the radiation later, I doubt it will be in any way "spectacular". The vast majority of the energy will go right through you but tissue close to the beam will get eff

      • by Like2Byte (542992)

        I clicked through here specifically to post that. Whether or not it's "myth", it would make for a pretty cool Mythbusters episode. They could travel to CERN and tour the LHC, interview some scientists about the cool stuff going on there and then blow up a pig or two!

        The very idea of dumbing down science by blowing up pigs is just hogwash!

        Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    • And then when THAT ultimately doesn't work, they put in 10 times the amount and do it again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm curious about this point because under a previous LHC article, someone commented that "11 trillion electron volts sounds impressive, but when I flick something with my finger, far more energy is transferred." (paraphrase, obviously)

      Could someone more versed in physics tell a layman how this scales up?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by swillden (191260)

        I'm curious about this point because under a previous LHC article, someone commented that "11 trillion electron volts sounds impressive, but when I flick something with my finger, far more energy is transferred." (paraphrase, obviously)

        Could someone more versed in physics tell a layman how this scales up?

        I'm not a physicist, but I typed "11 TeV in Joules" into Google and it says "1.76239411 × 10-6 joules". That's not very much energy. It's enough to accelerate 1.7 micrograms from rest to a velocity of one meter per second -- a gnat's whisker to a slow walk. Yeah, flicking a finger is far more energetic.

        However, that's the energy in the most energetic particles in the particle stream. There are a lot of particles in the stream, so their total energy is much higher.

        • by ameline (771895)
          Yes, that is the energy in each *individual* particle (for the most energetic ones). And as you point out, there are going to be lots of particles. It will add up.
        • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:45PM (#30246978)

          Yeah, even a few billion atoms (which isn't very much at all) and you're already talking about hundreds of Joules.

          I forget the exact energy specifications of the LHC, but if you're interested in getting a feeling for the power it packs, do a search for "LHC beam dump". This is a huge block of solid material (some sort of a lead-composite, IIRC) that's only job is to be vaporized if they need to shut down the beam quickly.

          • by Zerth (26112)

            .7m x 7m long carbon cylinder sucking up 350 MJ, surrounded by 750 tons of concrete and iron to keep it from going "sproing".

            • by Zerth (26112)

              PS, 350 MJ is around 84 kilos of TNT. Perhaps they are running a bit hot?

            • .7m x 7m long carbon cylinder

              That's about what I remember from a TV show about the LHC a while ago; roughly about 1 m in diameter (what's that in foot, 10 square feet?), 7m (23 feet) long. If the beam is directed into it, it heats up to about 800 degrees C (~1700 degrees F according to Google) in an instant.

              I can picture the scientist going "Operation room, the pizza's a bit stale, and the coffee machine blew up. Would you mind rerouting the beam once more?"

              (s/degrees/the simple circled degree character

              • about 1 m in diameter

                Argh, /. ... That was supposed to say 'about 1 m^2 in diameter'!

        • They did a test and the beam vaporized like a 40 M long copper tube a mm wide or so.
          Now they have a large graphite tube encased in like a foot of concrete to stop the beam and they scan the beam across it so it heats up evenly.

        • by bar-agent (698856)

          It's enough to accelerate 1.7 micrograms from rest to a velocity of one meter per second -- a gnat's whisker to a slow walk. Yeah, flicking a finger is far more energetic.

          Good point. For a particle that microscopic compared to an atom to have enough energy to move a macroscopic object like a a gnat's whisker to a slow walk is hella impressive when you think about it.

      • IANAP*, but I do play one on TV.

        You see Volts deal with Electrons, and Electrons are really tiny. Fingers aren't very big either, but they are bigger than electrons [citation needed]. Some scientist somewhere took 11 trillion electrons with 1 volt each and sent them towards a single finger, in flicking motion. The battle raged for just over a year, and in the end, the finger was the victor.

        *or a lawyer

    • Now I'm thinking that depending on which opening you drop those 87 kg of TNT into someone's body, this may finally be a thread where the goatse link isn't off-topic ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      Well, the beams have the energy equivalent of 87 KG of TNT. Your statement implies that standing in front of the beam would cause you to explode, which I very much doubt.

      I am curious as to what actually WOULD happen. The beams themselves are very narrow (on the order of a millimeter according to http://lhc-machine-outreach.web.cern.ch/lhc-machine-outreach/beam.htm [web.cern.ch] ). With such a tiny size I might guess the beam would quickly cut a hole straight through you.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:20PM (#30246770) Journal

    What would happen if you were standing in front of the beam? You would die. It would be a pretty spectacular death, and you wouldn't know a lot about it. ... It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body.

    So you're saying it'd be pretty painless? You could revolutionize flawed processes we have in the United States [latimes.com] by providing an alternative that may have a more expensive start up cost but would solve budget problems by providing needed services for both our prison system and science research at the same time. I mean if we ignore the ethical problems with televised executions, the costs of an LHC could be mitigated by commercial segments ...

    • by Pezbian (1641885)

      Why not just go "Hey! Look over there!" and shoot them in the head? $1 for a bullet and they never know what hit them.

    • by gmueckl (950314)

      That is, if you figure out how to clean up the mess - or what's left of it.

    • by syousef (465911)

      So you're saying it'd be pretty painless?

      Executions are small potatoes. Think suicide machines! Die painlessly now! Mind you this is the most expensive suicide booth I've ever heard of!

  • Higgs boson (Score:2, Interesting)

    by al0ha (1262684)
    I personally hope they don't find the Higgs boson as Dr. Hawking has predicted, as that will be far more interesting than if they do in my opinion.

    "I'd put the chance we will find the Higgs boson or something similar to it at pretty close to 100 per cent. From a physicist's standpoint, if you don't find that it's almost more interesting, because it means we got it wrong and there is other stuff going on we don't understand." - Paul Jackson
    • Isn't the pursuit of science meant to determine the truth of things? While discovering the Higgs boson or not will be truth either way, once discovering it we could move onto better and cooler things. I find it odd that Physicists find it more interesting when there is something you can't explain rather then testing a theory that could explain it.

      I mean, I hope they find the Higgs boson so that everyone can stop clammering about it. It would take a very short amount of time to find it, and confirm its exist

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      I hope they do find it. Simply because it has public interest. On /. everyone gets that if it isn't found that would be GOOD science. The general populace will be like BOOO science sucks, it never gives any answers, I love jeeebus. Scientists wrong again. And honestly? I'd much rather have something called the GOD-particle proven true just to have another 'Science, it works bitches' moment.
    • by jpmorgan (517966)

      Personally, I hope for destructive interference from the future preventing the test from ever happening. But mostly because I want to see a progression of less and less probable occurrences delaying the event, until at the last moment when the lead scientist reaches over to press the 'on' button, he spontaneously turns into a giant codfish, as all the particles in his body tunnel into a different configuration.

      Because that would be AWESOME!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tom17 (659054)
        Are you saying that the IID is just a failed, although only by a fraction of a tiny margin, attempt at discovering the Higgs-Boson?

        I wonder if they drink much tea there...

        Tom...

  • by Pezbian (1641885) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:21PM (#30246782)

    Look, kids! A real life working physicist. He's got a job that doesn't involve waiting for an internship to open up at a University.

    • by burni2 (1643061)

      Well, then we just have to build some more accelerators at costs of some billion euros,
      to employ some more physicists ?

    • I think LHC is a pretty cool guy. eh kills hardons and doesn't afraid of anything...

  • "What would happen if you were standing in front of the beam? You would die. It would be a pretty spectacular death, and you wouldn't know a lot about it. ... It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body."

    Am I the only one that IMMEDIATELY pulled up the vision of the green beams combining inside the deathstar?

    (deathsar firing [youtube.com] at 30 sec)

    • by Hatta (162192)

      I imagined all life as I know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in my body exploding at the speed of light.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:01PM (#30247112)

    and you wouldn't know a lot about it.

    ...not after being cooled down to -271 C and exposed to vacuum (if you were very lucky, in that order)...

    • by burni2 (1643061)

      Well according to a /. article from 3-4 months ago dying in a vacuum wouldn't be that cruel, with a tube preventing the delinquent from holding his breath. (prevents damaged lungs)

      But also from complaining if it does hurt?

      Human rights .. a dead man needs no human rights.

    • by careysub (976506)

      and you wouldn't know a lot about it.

      ...not after being cooled down to -271 C and exposed to vacuum (if you were very lucky, in that order)...

      You don't need to get all frigid to have a meet and greet with the beam. They extract it and fire it down a 600 m tunnel, where it hits a 5 ton graphite cylinder know as the beam dump, to shut down the accelerator. Stand anywhere in the tunnel and all you'll need is some bottled oxygen or a bubble (the tunnel is flooded with pure nitrogen since the beam dump would catch fire in an oxygen containing environment)./P

  • Anatoli Bugorski (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Picass0 (147474) on Friday November 27, 2009 @02:04PM (#30247142) Homepage Journal

    source : http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.12/science.html [wired.com]

    ====== snip======
    So it was in 1978 that when the proton beam entered Anatoli Bugorski's skull it measured about 200,000 rads, and when it exited, having collided with the inside of his head, it weighed in at about 300,000 rads. Bugorski, a 36-year-old researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, was checking a piece of accelerator equipment that had malfunctioned - as had, apparently, the several safety mechanisms. Leaning over the piece of equipment, Bugorski stuck his head in the space through which the beam passes on its way from one part of the accelerator tube to the next and saw a flash brighter than a thousand suns. He felt no pain.

    From what we know about radiation, about 500 to 600 rads is enough to kill a person (though we don't know of anyone else who has been exposed to radiation in the form of a proton beam moving at about the speed of sound). The left side of his face swollen beyond recognition, Bugorski was taken to a clinic in Moscow so that doctors could observe his death over the following two to three weeks.

    Over the next few days, skin on the back of his head and on his face just next to his left nostril peeled away to reveal the path the beam had burned through the skin, the skull, and the brain tissue. The inside of his head continued to burn away: all the nerves on the left were gone in two years, paralyzing that side of his face. Still, not only did Bugorski not die, but he remained a normally functioning human being, capable even of continuing in science. For the first dozen years, the only real evidence that something had gone neurologically awry were occasional petit mal seizures; over the last few years Bugorski has also had six grand mals. The dividing line of his life goes down the middle of his face: the right side has aged, while the left froze 19 years ago. When he concentrates, he wrinkles only half his forehead.
    ====== snip======

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Smurf (7981)

      Fascinating. Thanks for the info.

      But do take into account that Bugorski was using an accelerator from 1978, and for all we know it may not have been one of the top of the line even at that time. The LHC is the most powerful accelerator built till now, and 30 years have passed. Chances are that the beams Dr. Jackson refers to are orders of magnitude more energetic than the one that hit Bugorski.

      • by drerwk (695572)
        The more energetic beam might well do less damage. See the Brag Peak in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_therapy [wikipedia.org]. The point being that Proton beam therapy sees beams up to say 250 Mev. And I think that is because higher energy goes too deep. Note also that the higher the energy of the proton, the smaller its cross section to tissue.
    • by toxygen01 (901511)

      proton beam moving at about the speed of sound

      just to fix that, speed of light
      otherwise perfect info, thanks for sharing!

  • Real scientist ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zoxed (676559) on Friday November 27, 2009 @03:42PM (#30248110) Homepage

    > Dr. Paul Jackson, a particle physicist working on the LHC's Atlas experiment, says there's no chance of black holes wiping us out, and that the time travel speculation is bunkum. He is 100% convinced that they will find the Higgs boson.

    Maybe it is me, but when I hear someone say "no chance of..." or "100% convinced that they will find..." they sound more like a politician than a scientist. I thought the latter should have an open mind until proof was presented ?

    • by mpoulton (689851)

      Maybe it is me, but when I hear someone say "no chance of..." or "100% convinced that they will find..." they sound more like a politician than a scientist. I thought the latter should have an open mind until proof was presented ?

      What "proof" is sufficient to permit a scientist to say something with decent certainty? How about naturally-occurring collisions at this energy level on a daily basis for as long as the earth has been bombarded by cosmic rays? How open do scientists need to be to possibilities that are strongly and repeatedly contradicted by good evidence?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Smurf (7981)

      Dude, like a true Slashdotter you didn't RTFA, congratulations. Dr. Jackson didn't use the exact words mentioned in the summary (except, of course, the direct quote RE: 87kg of TNT).

      In reference to the black holes, he gives a short but complete explanation of why they would not destroy the planet.

      And about the Higgs boson, he said "I'd put the chance we will find the Higgs boson or something similar to it at pretty close to 100 per cent."

      The summary is not misleading, but the scientist didn't really use the

    • by geekoid (135745)

      proof has been presented. Lots of it. This is confirmation. I will be surprised if they don't find it. If thye don't it will be an interesting few years of trying to figure what else all our facts and evidence points to.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I forgot to put this in the other post, my bad.

      Here is the actual quote:
      ""I'd put the chance we will find the Higgs boson or something similar to it at pretty close to 100 per cent. "

  • by PPH (736903) on Friday November 27, 2009 @04:07PM (#30248304)

    It would be the equivalent of having 87kg of TNT dumped into your body.

    .... Mexican food.

  • "What would happen if you were standing in front of the beam? You would die."

    Or through a fluke of physics you'd become a super hero. The Higgs is called the "God particle" for a reason. Of course, nobody would stand in front of the beam for a while, because of all the safety precautions. But a few years from now maybe in 2012 when everybody's relaxed and used to working on it, it could happen. Probably around the holidays when people are distracted most. Probably around Christmas, since that's a big, stressful holiday and everybody's thinking about everything but work. It wouldn't

    • How to fight the creatures of CERN dungeon

      Before embarking on your adventure, you must first determine your own strengths and weaknesses. You have in your possession a physics book and a backpack containing provisions (food and drink) for the trip. You have been preparing your quest by training yourself in physics and doing exercises vigorously to build up your stamina.

      To see how effective your preparations have been you must use the dice to determine your INTELLIGENCE, STAMINA and LUCK scores.

      Hmmm, ok.

  • Q: Have you tried to introduce the Kit Kat?

    A: "Yes, the Brits have tried and it's in one of the vending machines, but it's not going down so well with the Swiss."

    Q: It must be a fairly geeky place to work. What does it smell like?

    A: "It smells probably much like you'd expect -- a bit 'games-heavy'. The experimentalists and the theoretical physicists have a different odour. The excessive amount of soft cheese in the area doesn't add to the spring-time freshness of the site."

    LMAO. Well worth the read.

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