Thursday, December 10, 2009

Addicted to the LHC

Over the past few weeks, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), also known as the 'most puissant particle punisher that pounds the protons', has been starting up (again).

The LHC is housed at CERN, and consists of a 27km long tunnel that is so big it needs two countries to contain it, France and Switzerland.

It's goal in life is to smash protons and later lead ions together at stupendous energies.. to see what happens. I bet they have written a loftier description of their aims themselves, but this is what they do.

At a cost that is hard to calculate, but surely more than €10 billion, it is cheaper than propping up a small bank.

The scale of everything they do there is huge. The tunnel is lined with arrays of machines, each of which would be the the proud possession of any physics department in the world. And it all has to work to deliver the big goal: smashing particles together at hitherto unobtainable energies.

Both because of "typos" in newspapers and because of the excitement this machine generates in the nerd crowd, the Large Hadron Collider has also been called the Large Hardon Collider. And it deserves the name.

I'm going to stop gushing now, but it is a seriously impressive setup. I haven't even started about the computing grid that calculates what the collisions resulted in, and if new physics has been discovered.

So, getting back to the title of this post, why am I addicted? In all their 'web 2.0' wisdom (they invented 'web 1.0' over at CERN, btw), the LHC people have decided to be incredibly open. With a little effort, you can find up to the second statistics of all their activities, down to a minute by minute logbook of operations.

And for some reason or other, this makes the LHC like a reality series for me. There is even a form and a chat room to hang out and gossip!
So, to join the fun, head over to the (unofficial) LHC Portal which contains links to all the good stuff! The best page to start is "Page 1" (which can also be found on the LHC Portal).

Have fun!