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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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  • Higgs boson (Score:2, Interesting)

    by al0ha (1262684) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:21PM (#30246780) Journal
    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
  • by zygotic mitosis (833691) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:28PM (#30246840)
    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?

  • 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 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)...

  • 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======

  • by careysub (976506) on Friday November 27, 2009 @03:32PM (#30248032)

    "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 carbon dump gets heated to 1000 c and would catch fire if oxygen were present), but some arrangement where a test chamber gets inserted in the tunnel seems possible.

    What is a dumped beam like? It is very narrow, at the tunnel entrance window it is 1.5 mm , but is swept in a spiral path (length 110 cm at the window) by deflector magnets as it enters the tunne. The spiral expands to a 1.2 m wide spiral pattern 4 m long when it reaches the dump [cern.ch]. The initial mass absorption coefficient is 80 g/cm^2 (for carbon) indicating a mass of tissue 6 inches thick with a density of 1 would absorb something less than 20% of the energy (360 megajoules, indeed about 87 kg of TNT), which see [web.cern.ch]. The mass of a 1.5 mm x 4000 mm irradiated zone is only 6 g.

    So, perhaps 15 kg TNT of energy would be absorbed by several grams of tissue in a long stripe. It would make a very violent explosion. The MythBusters guys better bring a strong walled chamber.

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