Shamik Das

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

CERN, baby, CERN, neutrino inferno!

Up and atom: The Atlas section of the 27km ring

FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE... the Hadron Collider is go!

At 8:30 this morning the world didn’t come to an end, as many had predicted, when scientists from around the world fired up the particle accelerator at CERN.

In recreating the big bang, physicits took a leap into the unknown to rival the moon landings, the H-bomb, Archimedes flooding his bathroom and that apple hitting Newton on the head.

Buried 175 metres beneath the Franco-Swiss border, the 27km-long ring took decades to build, costing £5 billion - £500 million of which came from Britain.

Physicists hope the experiments inside the collider and the data they reap will help to unlock the mysteries of the universe, a stagerring 96% of which is dark matter.

A huge magnetic field accelerates the particles - protons that form the nucleus of the hydrogen atom - to velocities approaching (up to 99.9999% of) the speed of light, which is approximately 300 million metres per second, before firing up to 11,000 particles a second clockwise and anti-clockwise into the collider, hurtling round the tubes and smashing into each other, releasing huge amounts of energy.

The resultant sub-atomic particles will then be collected by four detectors, Alice, Atlas, CMS and LHCb, akin to giant digital cameras whose 150 million sensors capture the images of the debris of the 600 million collisions every second, transmitting half a gigabyte of data a second to the Grid.

"My dear Tintin, time loss is possible"    "A-hoyvin-glayvin with the anti-particles and the quarks and the electrons!"

Working alongside the thousands of Frinkies and Calculuses from 111 countries, analysing the data and interpreting the results, will be 30 Indians, among them two siblings from Rajasthan University who helped construct one of the accelerators.

"We have designed the Photon Multiplicity Detector (PMD), which has been fitted in the LHC, in which small particles (protons) will be accelerated and made to collide at the highest-ever man-made speed," said Professor Sudhir Raniwala.

"The PMD is part of the ALICE project in the Large Hadron Collider, under which experts will try to generate quark-gluon plasma matter, which was present at the time of the creation of the universe.

"The idea is to study whether the lab can create what happened at the time of the creation of the universe."

The PMD, which will play a key role in the experiment, was developed at the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in Kolkata – a body of the Department of Atomic Energy – and transported to Geneva from February this year, with the machines being fitted into the LHC by June.

"Experts from IIT-Mumbai, Panjab University, Jammu University, Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and Rajasthan University have all worked together to develop the PMD," added Sudhir's sister Dr Rashmi Raniwala.

Smashing: A scale diagram of the large hadron collider at CERN

Meanwhile, here in Britain, another Asian scientist, Simon Singh, will be helping to explain the project in layman's terms with a series of programmes on BBC Radio Four, telling the stories behind the Five Particles, each day this week at 3:45.

An author of several books on mathematics and physics, including Fermat's Last Theorem, The Code Book and Big Bang, the 44-year-old British Punjabi worked on the LHC project 20 years ago, before returning to England to educate the masses as a media scientist, picking up an MBE in the process.

Singh, like everyone else with a brain, was scathing of the Nostradamus-esque prophecies of the cretinous creationists who don't believe in evolution, the Sarah Palin-loving Bible-bashing flat-earthers running around screaming "we're doooomed, doooooomed I tell you" in their best Private Frazer impressions.

So, once the dust settles and the debris is analysed, when all's said and done, what does it all mean for us Earthlings?

Time travel, length contraction, black holes, worm holes, anti-matter, dark matter, Kang and Kodos... as Mulder said, the truth is out there...

Details of Indian contributions to the LHC
Five Particles


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