NewsHammer Exclusive As we're about to push the button for the biggest science experiment conducted by the biggest machine ever built, perhaps we should look at the Large Hadron Collider's significance. Later this month the LHC will be powering collisions at energies never before attempted, three times the record it set this past December.

The LHC adventure is all about one giant organization, CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, straddling Switzerland and France and the whole field of particle physics. Whatever the LHC does, CERN is behind it. So it seems are all the physicists. No major critics have surfaced from the inner and outer circles of CERN, and that's about 10,000 particle physicists involved with the LHC or half the world's supply of all physicists. The very few dissenters beyond the fringe not duly cowered have been dismissed as "nuts" and "twats". We haven't seen this kind of power and doctrinal solidarity in Europe since the Church of Rome before the Reformation. A rare unanimity in ordinary terms as well, especially when no physicist knows what the LHC will do.

The public who pays for the LHC has only been peripherally involved through media campaigns launched by CERN to enhance public support. The CERN guided tour of the LHC routinely makes the rounds of newspapers and television, the Collider Wheel of Fortune. The rest is feel-good opinion pieces from physicists congratulating CERN and some favorable quotes or sound-bites from physicists mixed in with snippets of LHC news updates on its progress to start-up again. It finally did again this February 27 after a lot of collider nuts and bolts were fixed again, and now the media blitz restarts today on an exciting new LHC record, from more rehash and rewrites of a new CERN Press Release.

Beam me up Scotty and fire proton torpedoes

Today test beams were circulated at 3.5 TeV each, the maximum for this year's proton run. But it was a test and maximized beams are far from a reality. The LHC can produce 2808 bunches of protons in each beam and CERN isn't saying how many they did manage or for how long. Beams for 5 minutes? If they were at least an hour and at full power CERN would have bragged about it. Another glitch admitted today by CERN's Director General, that machine protection systems interfered with the ramp up of energies, shows not all is according to CERN's book of numbers. Beams are back to 0.45 TeV again, the injection energy. But the obvious conclusion is CERN means to go to 7 TeV collisions as soon as it can. The first little Big Bang could happen in a few days.

LHC1 Live Status data (no archive) since Feb 27th (Key To Codes) have shown quite a different view of LHC readiness, not one problem but many glitches in electrical and helium cooling systems requiring fixes. The brief beams of today look like a lucky break, timed nicely for CERN Council in session. Polite applause. More Christians to the lions in another context. Or in our mythology of today: Launching Mt Doom in Geneva.

Usually though for months and months and years and years there's been little enough hard news, more boring loose nuts and bolts and more delays. Today's Media Success looks like another one from September 2008, the Big Bang Day Collider Inauguration. Days later CERN presented the bill, a $40 Million accident.

Now some real buzz again, or more boom and doom from the LHC. Never mind the worn out media hype promising exciting New Physics, largely an exercise in public relations to justify a $10 Billion machine that costs another $1 Billion a year to operate and still hasn't done anything much in 10 years except get built very slowly. Forget that small elite army of physicists waiting for more bread and butter data coming on line for their life's work and a real shot at Nobel glory. The LHC Machine's well-oiled destiny is upon us.

This big deal or what historians might call a Social Contract has arrived also thanks to many governments colluding on our behalf. It is such a big deal it could affect all of us. The LHC's frightening power may or may not destroy itself, Geneva and the world, but why worry if the Dr Strangeloves aren't? New States of Matter from a grab-bag of collider objects produced, from micro black holes to strangelets or maybe the totally unexpected can't happen can it? However remote the odds and CERN insists they are ZERO, even for what CERN cannot imagine in physics, the actual risk and consequences are unknown. Right I-1+B-1+M-1, HAL, Hadron Accelerator Large? Anyone for Kubrick's Tycho Magnetic Anomaly and a voyage To Jupiter and Beyond?

Flashback To Another Collider

The last time anything like this happened in science, (alternate Youtube video link to: The Trinity Test 1945) the US at war and in secret, launched the Manhattan Project and that changed everything for us. Though then there was a moral authority and purpose behind that nuclear experiment. Most people in the worn-torn world of the 1940s would have supported the Bomb openly had they known of it, to stop the criminally insane and their WWII destroying civilization. A long generation later it seems we're being asked to entrust our future to a group of physicists again and oddly this time by them. Actually a small group of physicists (not 10,000) pushed Einstein to write a letter and raise the A Bomb question to FDR. Don't think they actually wanted one of those. They wanted to stop one they thought the Nazis might be building.

Unlike last time, today it isn't at all clear for what benefit and to what end CERN's experiment with history is designed for. CERN doesn't know either which makes it respectable pure research, or a LEP, oops leap into the unknown. At a time when there is no urgency, no threat, no world war, a group of physicists want a big change in their world (our world too) a little Big Bang, as though a new unknown nuclear physics is a private club matter well within the control of their one-of-a-kind ingeniously complex and unreliable always stuttering collider down the hall.

Oppenheimer Remembers

Just pure research let's say (alternate Youtube link to: in alamogordo, new mexico, on july 16, 1945) and more knowledge as physicists see it, or let's face it more like an ultimate knowledge of the Universe. Here we enter the waters of religion. If the LHC could be described to an outside observer, it might appear nothing like a research lab. What's that dancing girl doing here at CERN?

Shiva's Chariot Of Fire/ Six Bachelors And Their Bride

With all the cloistered excitement in and around Geneva and underground, the sheer size and spectacle of it all looks like the start of a new religious experiment or at least the completion of its temple, praised and guarded by an officious and privileged class in their superfluous white ceremonial labcoats: chalk dust a blackboard hazard of the past. If they looked like Orcs we'd stand a chance.

Another Experiment Gone Wrong

Perhaps not such a new experiment if there ever was a Tower of Babel. Now something like the Tower's purpose to reach Heaven has been engineered underground out of the building blocks of modern civilization and science including the equivalent momentary power of 14 TeV or 14 Tera or trillion electron volts or translated into real world terms, the energy of 3,400 nuclear power plants CERN estimates privately, converging on a tiny experimental space.

The giant now horizontal tower 17 miles around, the LHC Ring of Power dwarfing the people who built it, and applauded on all sides, is now ready for our ultimate experiment into the mysteries of matter and energy. The question is should it still go ahead? Or are questions of history, religion and art just more bunk to be totally erased by the progress of science?

At this point only governments could stop the LHC but like the rest of us they too are dazzled by the Machine they built and the $10 Billion poured into it.

For those eager to go ahead, even though they could claim it was a collective decision whatever the outcome, it will be remembered that the few who think they know physics are the force behind this gamble with the unknown. These are as it happens the same physicists who also say they don't know what will happen and need the LHC experiment to rescue them and their physics from a maze of theories and speculations that continues to spiral out of control. Purely mental wandering that craves a solution, but strangely along the same lines of any obsession, even a pathologically dangerous one. Call it Collider Fever. Or Big Bang Envy. Any sex therapists wanna tackle this?

That only leaves the LHC to destroy itself when the experiment like the Tower of Babel is crushed by its own weight. It is history in the making? Or history repeating itself? With far more than masonry and mortar in its grasp, there's a String theory of chances on the way. 7 TeV collisions soon, this Fall heavy lead ion collisions that will make these protons look like pop guns, and if the LHC goes to full power in about three years at 14 TeV, it could also be the end of science and the quest for power through knowledge. It might also be the end of history.

An 11th Hour Appeal Launched In Europe

Two days ago all CERN Council members and the Science Ministers of 20 CERN Member States were petitioned by a group of LHC critics. A letter outlining the New Physics hazards of the LHC experiment not fully addressed by CERN and its lack of studies on Risk Assessment was presented for consideration, including supporting papers from the science and academic community. CERN has not replied. Updates on the petition at LHC Kritik.

I'd also like to signal a few Comments that I posted on various website articles recently. Thanks especially to Fermilab/SLAC, Symmetry and SymmetryBreaking for publishing my critical overview of the Media and CERN in "Demystifying the LHC shutdown". Thanks to New Scientist for publishing Professor Eric E Johnson's article "CERN on trial: could a lawsuit shut the LHC down?" and my Comment on the comments posted that were first analyzed by Empirical Observer, the pro and con LHC arguments that you see all the time, that don't pass the test of logic. And a Comment from me on the always invoked Cosmic Ray Argument used by CERN to make all risks disappear, in this case by a French guy who works for CERN ATLAS, thanks to my favorite French newspaper Le Figaro "Le LHC va s’arrêter pendant un an".

At CERN's many info websites you can't post a Comment on anything. Can't even "Ask a physicist" about anything. Send an email and if you're lucky or if you're a little old lady worried about LHC Tsunamis CERN PR will answer.

Dance on fire until The End

Sooner or later, right Morrison? Thanks Jim. The End comes first.

This is Part 5 of a series on machine safety and potential risks of expected Collider Objects like mBH at the LHC when the collider jumps to very high unknown energies this March. "Doomsday Report: New Physics At The LHC" will appear in The Science of Conundrums.

NewsHammer Part 1: Large Hadron Collider Waiting For Doomsday

NewsHammer Part 2: Fantastic LHC Energies May Be Higher Than Expected

NewsHammer Part 3: Higgs Discovered At The Large Hadron Collider / More Delays

NewsHammer Part 4: Scrubbing CMS Data At The LHC

--Alan Gillis


  1. Jim Tank // March 20, 2010 at 3:47 AM  

    Great Article Alan, it is interesting that CERN does not have an "ask an expert" moderated forum. I would think that would be an effective method for physisists to communicate with and educate the public.