Posted tagged ‘Particle Fever’

Feverish Over Particles

April 24, 2014

signalSome years ago, we were working on a project to find a very weak sound in a very noisy background using a device known as an adaptive line enhancer.  We were using a spectrograph to determine if we’d been successful.  The display placed a small bright dot at the location of the signal, which did not stand out before we processed the sounds.  If the signal was found, the bright dot would rise above the background.  One afternoon, we finally got the thing working and had quite a little celebration.  The following day, Kevin, a programmer, told us that when his wife had asked him what he did at work, he told her, We got a little white dot to move about half an inch.  Everyone got pretty excited.  Of such descriptions, humility is born.

I felt a bit like our friend Kevin last night when I went to see the film, Particle Fever, at the Artsy-Farsty Theater.  No, it is not about a disco for physicists … it is the story of the initial tests of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva Switzerland told through the eyes of six brilliant … and quite interesting … physicists.  The Collider is the largest and most expensive experiment ever conducted by mankind with a purpose so esoteric that one wonders how the project ever happened.   The fact that it was built by a multi-nationalhlc consortium, including physicists from countries that are mortal enemies makes its completion even more astonishing.  By any standard, the scale of the project is mind-boggling – the cost, number of people involved, the twenty-plus years needed to build it and its size.  The Collider is built in an underground ring 17 miles in circumference with equipment over five stories high, mostly underground.  These are electronics circuits on a grand scale, much of it hand built and soldered.  According to Wikipedia, data collected from proton collisions were also anticipated to be produced at an unprecedented rate of tens of petabytes per year, to be analysed by a grid-based computer network infrastructure connecting 140 computing centers in 35 countries(by 2012 the LHC Computing Grid was the world’s largest computing grid, comprising over 170 computing facilities in a worldwide network across 36 countries. The initial goal of the LHC was to verify the existence of the Higgs boson particle, a cornerstone of what is known as The Standard Model. (more…)