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And it probably won't destroy the universe.
August 2, 2008 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Stunning photos of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 17 mile long particle accelerator that probably won't destroy the universe. [previously]
posted by bukharin (62 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
As Cortex loads his double zapper, step into the middle of the street, and slaps his holster.
posted by timsteil at 2:45 PM on August 2, 2008


We can still hope, though.
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:49 PM on August 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


If ever there was anything that could create a rift in space-time, this is it. I wanna be there when it happens.

Engage.
posted by nosila at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2008


I love this thing.

I'm geekily proud to have contributed a miniscule, infinitesimal bit to its construction (by running LHC@Home in my BOINC client).
posted by greenie2600 at 3:03 PM on August 2, 2008


Those are amazing photos. Thanks for the links bukharin. Imagine what Emeril Lagasse could do with this thing. Bam indeed.
posted by netbros at 3:05 PM on August 2, 2008


From what I've read in the last couple days (most of which has been way over my head), it would appear that the point of this thing is to try to figure out why and how matter exists. If it tells us that, what will we then be able to do with that information? I guess I'm trying to determine why the massive expenditure of time, energy, resources and money. Will the result somehow help mankind? Is there heaps of money to be made? Is it just because we're curious?
posted by andihazelwood at 3:09 PM on August 2, 2008


Yeah, why do anything unless you can demonstrate a tangible benefit?
posted by squorch at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I certainly don't see how understanding why and how matter exists is a bad thing.
posted by agress at 3:28 PM on August 2, 2008


If it tells us that, what will we then be able to do with that information?

We will then be better able to manipulate matter and energy. We may possibly gain some insight into ways to convert between the two, but it's hard to predict exactly how we'll apply the information we gain, because we don't know what it is yet. I doubt that Maxwell or Ampère could have possibly predicted most of the applications of electricity, but their work made all of that possible.
posted by betaray at 3:28 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will the result somehow help mankind?

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any major advances in Physics which haven't in the long run helped generate tangible technologies.
posted by Alex404 at 3:28 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


the 17 mile long particle accelerator that probably won't destroy the universe

This kind of scaremongering is irresponsible! The LHC probably won't destroy the earth. So it's not nearly as bad, see.
posted by Justinian at 3:31 PM on August 2, 2008


I think physics is incredibly, incredibly hott. This is mostly because it's so over my head that it becomes even more sexy by my inability to understand it. That thing can align my protons any day.

One question though. Bear in mind, I am a complete idiot. Anyhow, the question:

If this machine is testing the conditions leading up to the big bang, could it inadvertently create another universe? Like, a mini-pocket sized universe, kind of like the purse dog of universes?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


One of the researchers at CERN has a great post with commentary and Q&A at Somethingawful (no joke): We Are All Going To Die -- Convenient Countdown Inside!
posted by gen at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


grapefruitmoon: If this machine is testing the conditions leading up to the big bang, could it inadvertently create another universe? Like, a mini-pocket sized universe, kind of like the purse dog of universes?

Michio Kaku says probably not: The end of the world as we know it?
posted by gen at 3:40 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Snark aside, those are some awesome pictures.

Snark not aside, I hope we do create pocket universes. I could play a game of Populous, only with actual beings.
posted by Justinian at 3:41 PM on August 2, 2008


Thanks, gen.

For anyone else wondering about the end of the world and would like to skip reading the article, this is a pretty good sum-up.
Thirdly, these mini black holes are unstable, and quickly decay. Instead of gobbling up matter and becoming big enough to eat up the Earth, they go in the opposite direction, emitting radiation so that they eventually disappear into nothing, a process proposed by the renowned Cambridge physicist, Stephen Hawking. So these subatomic black holes naturally self-destruct.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:44 PM on August 2, 2008


That's a really interesting link, thanks gen.

Post could use the SCIENCE!! tag though.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on August 2, 2008


If this machine is testing the conditions leading up to the big bang, could it inadvertently create another universe?

We are, for practical intents and purposes, utterly clueless about what conditions were before the big bang. This machine is creating conditions similar to those immediately after it, according to our understanding. To wit, it can pump enough energy under the correct conditions necessary for creating some of the funky types of matter that we believe existed then, and that we haven't yet otherwise had the capability to observe. It would be sardonic to use the term 'microcosm', but we don't have enough matter and energy lying around to turn this stuff into a fully-fledged new universe.

It's like burning hydrogen in chemistry class to create water, thereby 'emulating the process which formed Earth's oceans.' Not an inaccurate characterization, but careful not to get carried away...
posted by 7segment at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2008


If it does kill us all, I'm really glad that the thing looks (looked) so impressive. Looks to be orders of magnitude more complex than other feats of engineering. Big round thingy with wires, I salute you!
posted by cowbellemoo at 4:04 PM on August 2, 2008


grapefruitemoon: science fiction has as usual gotten there first.
posted by localroger at 4:06 PM on August 2, 2008


What I can't get over, having worked with plenty of guys who wear hard hats in construction situations, is seeing the guys wearing heard hats and construction equipment working with equipment of this precision and complexity.
posted by localroger at 4:07 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The most interesting thing about the LHC is the utter lack, compared to every other piece of physics experimental apparatus I've ever seen or worked with, of aluminum foil, rubber bands, or duct tape.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:07 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cost to build: about 2 months' worth of Iraq occupation.

. . . thanks, Ralph.
posted by yort at 4:09 PM on August 2, 2008


My favorite fact about this thing: each second 800 million protons going (99.9% the speed of light) will be moving around the circle with about the kinetic energy of a 200 mile an hour freight train weighing in at some 200 tons.

Higgs boson here we come.
posted by dawiz at 4:09 PM on August 2, 2008


Will the result somehow help mankind? Is there heaps of money to be made?

What is the use of a new-born child? </billnyechannelingmichaelfaraday>
posted by DU at 4:14 PM on August 2, 2008


So it costs about $10 billion U.S. dollars and its not going to destroy anything? I think they screwed up somewhere. If I spent that much on something I would want it to blow something up at least.

The pictures are amazing though, I wish I could see it in person to really get a sense of its size.
posted by lilkeith07 at 4:17 PM on August 2, 2008


We will then be better able to manipulate matter and energy.

Who's this we you're talking about? This won't affect what you or I can do one iota. Any power it grants will be granted first to the people who make weapons and pollution, handed over with beatific smiles by the people who make things just because they've never been made before and don't stop to think for too long about what they might be used for. Whatever benefits trickle down will do so in the same way most consumer technologies have: once the martial applications are sufficiently advanced, someone figures out a way to spin them off in to civilian market products and accelerate the standard-of-living arms race.

Will the result somehow help mankind?

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any major advances in Physics which haven't in the long run helped generate tangible technologies.


That didn't actually answer the question. Technology is by definition helpful, but I can't think of very many technologies which have been, on balance, "helpful to humankind." They help individual humans, even whole classes of humans, but the question is what they help with. Getting food to their mouths? Recording thoughts for posterity or reference? Making music? Living further from where they work? Converting resources in to other technologies more quickly? Converting the biosphere in to waste more quickly? Killing someone without having to look them in the eye? Killing a dozen people without having to see their faces? Killing a million people without being in the same hemisphere?

In all honestly I also can't think of very many problems faced by humanity which can be remediated by the addition of technology - only, in some cases, by its re-application or re-distribution. Our most significant problems are social, economical. Ideological. Not technological.

While the science (what I understand of it) behind this is pretty cool, the breathless "we do what we must because we can" reportage leaves a very cold feeling in me. I know some will probably read this comment as an anti-science screed, but it's not. The spirit of inquiry and curiousity is what defines our species, I think, and it's what gives me my greatest hope - even in spite of all that's been done with it. But we can't ignore how in the current context any inquiries in to potentially unprecedented realms of energy and technological capability are likely going to be used, first and foremost, to maintain a social and ideological order which has proven anything but "helpful to humankind."

The horizon of human progress in the next century won't be technological. It will be ethical. Until we start marking real movement toward it, I don't trust us with toys like this, however pretty and exciting they may be.
posted by regicide is good for you at 4:35 PM on August 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


I guess I'm trying to determine why the massive expenditure of time, energy, resources and money. Will the result somehow help mankind? Is there heaps of money to be made? Is it just because we're curious?

Andihazelwood, the SomethingAwful link that gen posted has some excellent insight from a CERN researcher, which includes some secondary benefits from the technological advances that a particle accelerator of this scale requires:

It is often the spin-offs or inventions through necessity that come to the front. The World Wide Web is a good example, but it tends to be the only one people talk about when they think of CERN. The really fun cutting edge stuff tends to be related to Radio Frequency tech. To accelerate our beams we used to use high voltages, but this only takes you so far. Now we need to use very high frequency RF, and it is an area that outside of communications doesn't get that much research.

Superconductors are another- At cern the magnets for the LHC take a _lot_ of power. We're talking hundreds of thousands of amps having to be sent around a 27km ring. There's a hunk of cable in the CERN museum about 12"x12" square that is capable of carrying this load. Beside it is a superconducting ribbon about 1" wide by a sixteenth thick that does the same job, and is three times as efficient. In addition, copper is expensive. The niobium-tin compound these are made of isn't. This is good news for power companies, whose losses are almost exclusively in power lines. In the US right now a company is trying them out as an alternative.

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:16 PM on August 2, 2008


Is there heaps of money to be made?

Oh yes, now I get it. Tunnels in Switzerland.

The Higgs Boson mon pied, it's quite clearly the world's most audacious bank heist.
posted by duncan42 at 5:31 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Andihazelwood, the SomethingAwful link that gen posted has some excellent insight from a CERN researcher

Thanks gen and Blazecock Pileon, I've just read the entire fascinating thread. The point about the amount of money spent on war vs. science is a good one, and a much more important illustration of screwed up priorities.

That Starking Barfish should post all that info for the goons is mindboggling but cool!
posted by andihazelwood at 5:53 PM on August 2, 2008


Wow, are you kidding? This thing has got to be stopped. Look at it, it's like the fucking Eye of Ra or something. Uh-uh.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 5:54 PM on August 2, 2008


The CERN Rap
posted by Slothrup at 5:58 PM on August 2, 2008


Eleventy quintillion dollars spent on this thing, and the terminal in the massive server room is running on a CRT ‽ Can't someone got that guy a nice flat-panel display? Instant wake-from-sleep could be slightly important here.

"Sven! Shut the mainfraim down immediately! The system's going critical!! the world will implode!!!"

"Yes sir! As soon as the display wakes up."

*blink*
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:01 PM on August 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


The point about the amount of money spent on war vs. science is a good one, and a much more important illustration of screwed up priorities.

But there often isn't a line between those two, right? I hope it's just the cynic in me, but it seems that a lot of money spent on science is being spent on war. What do you want to bet the first thing many important people think while looking at the results of this will be, "Okay. How can we turn this into a weapon?"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:21 PM on August 2, 2008


If this thing doesn't create any mutants or superheroes a la Dr. Manhattan, I'll consider this a disaster.

But seriously, wow...just plain wow.
posted by fijiwriter at 6:29 PM on August 2, 2008


I have trouble building a chicken coop and then you show me this.
posted by Camofrog at 6:53 PM on August 2, 2008


I am disappointed that no one has yet said "This post gives me a hadron."
posted by zippy at 6:57 PM on August 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's ironic. Most scientists are politically liberal, but (at least in America), most liberals viscerally hate scientific endeavors more even than conservatives.

Republicans look at this and think, "how can this eventually be used as a weapon?" Democrats look at this and think, "What practical effect will this have in the next fiscal quarter, and why isn't this money being used right now on poor people?"

Do any really wonder why Archimedes was a weapons scientist?
posted by dirigibleman at 7:00 PM on August 2, 2008



most liberals viscerally hate scientific endeavors more even than conservatives.

I'll let the patent absurdity of this statement speak for itself.
posted by bukharin at 7:21 PM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


It really does amaze me that a device, conceived with the intent of furthering scientific development, could be the harbinger of such unbearable idiocy.

From the absurd -- and fundamentally ignorant -- doomsday theories, to comments like "most liberals viscerally hate scientific endeavors more even than conservatives", I just want to scream...

Liberalism / conservatism has nothing to do with liking, or hating science; idiots -- of all walks of life -- hate science. People who would rather remain stupid, than learn new ideas; a paradox which, itself, could likely form a singularity given the crushing weight of ignorance.

You don't hear this sort of bullshit regarding other scientific advances. I'm not going to pretend to grasp the physics and concepts required to be working with the LHC, but the baseless tripe being bandied about by people as equally unqualified as myself is sickening.

For lack of a better explanation, this smacks of what I call Internet Expert Syndrome. People read a collection of generalist articles; forged with the intent of mass consumption by the laymen public; and think they're qualified to pass judgment on a device they aren't qualified to understand.

Carbon and stupidity; the two infinite resources of the universe... But then, we're not so sure about the former.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:43 PM on August 2, 2008


Technology is by definition helpful, but I can't think of very many technologies which have been, on balance, "helpful to humankind."

I understand that you're responding to a rather weak argument, but your response is itself weak. Not to cast any disrespect on your intelligence and/or imagination, but the fact that you personally can't conceive of many positive outcomes to a particular course of action does not mean that many positive outcomes will not result. The reverse is equally true.

What do you want to bet the first thing many important people think while looking at the results of this will be, "Okay. How can we turn this into a weapon?"

It's not the weapon-builders you should be worried about: it's the war-makers, and the war-makers have demonstrated on many occasions that don't particularly care what weapons are employed. They'll just as happily go to war with tank shells that use depleted uranium as those which use quark degenerate matter.

Yes, that's a long-winded version of the 'guns don't kill people' cliche, but that cliche is not entirely without merit.
posted by Ritchie at 8:05 PM on August 2, 2008


Awesome pictures, thanks bukharin.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:17 PM on August 2, 2008


thanks for the post - so cool!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:20 PM on August 2, 2008


Ritchie:

but the fact that you personally can't conceive of many positive outcomes to a particular course of action does not mean that many positive outcomes will not result.

You're right, fair enough. But does that mean you don't see occasional validity in the precautionary principle? Hell, given our track record as a species, erring on the side of caution may be the boldest course of action these days.

It's not the weapon-builders you should be worried about: it's the war-makers, and the war-makers have demonstrated on many occasions that don't particularly care what weapons are employed

Well, see, that's actually my point. That fact is well-known enough to the weapon makers by now that universal claims of innocent curiousity are disingenuous. The gory spectacle's been going on long enough, and the R&D folks aren't exactly in the cheap seats.

Or put it this way: If a buddy asks to borrow your car twice, and he gets drunk and totals it twice, would you give him the keys a third time?

Sure, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." And the people making handguns - guns which by design are for the exclusive purpose of killing people - really help.

Anyway, I wasn't really taking issue with the LHC specifically, but with the addled fluffing that often stands in for journalism when someone decides to cover matters like this. I can almost see the dude's Science Erection from here.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:37 PM on August 2, 2008


From what I've read in the last couple days (most of which has been way over my head), it would appear that the point of this thing is to try to figure out why and how matter exists. If it tells us that, what will we then be able to do with that information? I guess I'm trying to determine why the massive expenditure of time, energy, resources and money. Will the result somehow help mankind? Is there heaps of money to be made? Is it just because we're curious?
posted by andihazelwood at 6:09 PM on August 2 [+] [!]


The ability of any society to address the problems confronting it is a direct function of the energy available to it.

This device will provide us with knowledge that is likely to result in greater energy availability.

The allocation of that energy - for good or ill or to simply squander - is one of the functions of our leaders. An educated, emancipated population effectively leveraging the energy available to them in pursuit of the greater good is the ultimate threat to the status quo: it alters the sociological landscape more quickly than the leaders can adapt, and it deprives the leaders of problems used to justify their position.

Unsurprisingly, most leaders throughout history have chosen to squander the energy available to their societies.

But they don't always succeed. Sometimes little bits of true advancement escape through the screen of entertainment and wars and religion. Like free instantaneous many-to-many communication. Greater energy availability will only increase the rate at which these shifts occur.

With enough of them we just might survive long enough to reach that greater good.
posted by Ryvar at 9:40 PM on August 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


... and slaps his holster.

Who knew that a science piece could end up NSFW.

And to put some context around how this could end up helping us in everyday life. Our understanding of the quantum nature of matter came about, in part, by throwing particles around, starting with alpha and beta decay from radioactive substances, through the first cyclotrons. Quantum mechanics is more than just a curiosity of arbitrary laboratory experiments, it has practical applications in the semiconductors you use to read this message, and understanding what really goes on inside of cells when enzymes do their thing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:55 PM on August 2, 2008



the 17 mile long particle accelerator that probably won't destroy the universe

This kind of scaremongering is irresponsible! The LHC probably won't destroy the earth. So it's not nearly as bad, see.


Oh come on now... If the damn thing destroys the Earth, I would personally prefer it to also take out the Universe. If you're gonna go, go big.
posted by barc0001 at 11:07 PM on August 2, 2008


I was told, "It's SCIENCE, embrace it". Whaddya know, even Science needs a hug.
posted by Cranberry at 12:53 AM on August 3, 2008


Remember back before we had high-def flat screens, we had those big fat TVs with tubes and other stuff in them? Remember what happened when you turned them off?

Everything, all of the amazing color and noise and movement and action and just...everything - the entire mini-universe you were watching, portrayed on a 19" screen, all of it in a single instant collapsed upon itself, into a single, brief white "blip" of intense energy that was then gone, as though nothing had ever been there on the screen in the first place. It usually happened so fast that you didn't notice it. But sometimes, after so many hours of marinating your senses in the warm glowing bath of modern media, you could see it clearly - you could hold that instant where the four corners of the screen collapsed inwards. From a full picture, suddenly there was the bright cross that touched the top, bottom, and sides - reminiscent of the way a star sometimes twinkles in the sky. In almost the same moment those arms then rushed in, towards the center, and the blip ended, taking all of its life with it into nothingness. It was not like death, because death, as we know it, almost always leaves some trace of something behind - a corpse, the pieces of one, a stain on the ground, or at least some alteration to the environment from its former state - proof that something living had once been there. It was not like death, it was like the reversal of existence itself.

That brief blip. I'm not entirely sure its not a figment of our collective imaginations.

I don't think human life as we know it will end like that.

But this thing does give me pause.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:41 AM on August 3, 2008


What if they find 'free lunch'? Is it worth all that money? Hell yes!

Oh, I suppose I should say, 'free lunch', in this context, is energy so cheap, it may as well be free. Imagine no longer needing to burn fossil fuels!

I am curious though: all those protons spinning around so fast, would that not warp time around the LHC at least a little? Or is it too little to measure?

If Geneva gets swallowed into this thing though, do you think anyone in Zurich will notice, apart from the trains from there no longer arriving?
posted by Goofyy at 4:19 AM on August 3, 2008


I get the feeling after looking at those pictures that there is some bureaucrat/scientist out there who's whole job is examining experimental equipment proposed for particle collision research and rejecting those experiments with insufficiently shiny equipment.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:29 AM on August 3, 2008


Imagine no longer needing to burn fossil fuels!

Imagine a US military with infinite energy.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2008


I hope it doesn't destroy the Earth–all my stuff is there.
posted by Mister_A at 11:40 AM on August 3, 2008


For lack of a better explanation, this smacks of what I call Internet Expert Syndrome. People read a collection of generalist articles; forged with the intent of mass consumption by the laymen public; and think they're qualified to pass judgment on a device they aren't qualified to understand.

Or view everything through the filter of their particular shoulder chip about What's Wrong With The World/Society/ThePeopleInControl and react accordingly.
posted by bonaldi at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2008


The horizon of human progress in the next century won't be technological. It will be ethical.

False dichotomy. People are vastly better off today than they were 500 years ago, thanks to technology, and there's no reason to suspect that living standards won't continue to improve into the future as well. That seems a lot like ethical progress as well.
posted by decoherence at 2:51 PM on August 3, 2008


Regardless of what it does or what the benefits are - it looks awesome! And there is a slim chance that a black hole will be created that swallows the Earth!

Science is cool.
posted by Blackadder at 5:58 PM on August 3, 2008


Are we concerned that it will swallow the earth or yo-yo back and forth through the center of gravity, Swiss-cheesing our lovely planet?
posted by Mister_A at 6:04 PM on August 3, 2008


But where is the lambda bunker?
posted by polyglot at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2008


Polyglot, you'd have gotten a favorite from me for referencing a more obscure video game.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:43 PM on August 3, 2008


Justinian, it also probably won't cause the collapse of a false vacuum state, thus destroying the Universe (well, the portion of it in our forward light cone).
posted by hattifattener at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2008


That Starking Barfish should post all that info for the goons is mindboggling but cool!

Believe it or not, SA is probably more intelligent than Mefi. Also they enjoy a good plate of beans, either eaten and farted out or thrown into traffic.

Don't be so quick to put down.
posted by unixrat at 6:38 AM on August 4, 2008


Strange but true fact. Goons are some smart smart folks. Just a bit... less reverent...
posted by stenseng at 2:15 PM on August 4, 2008


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