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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

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After First Beam

If you haven’t already, check out Peter’s posting on the first findings of the LHC. He does a nice job of discussing the basic foundations we need to establish first before we can focus on the ‘sexy’ physics; supersymmetry, the higgs, extra dimensions, etc. But before we can even do the studies that Peter mentions, we have to first calibrate and understand the detector. This in itself is no easy task.

Now that Sept 10th has been set as the day of first beam, the most frequent question I get these days is, ‘So, when are you going to see the higgs?’

I wish that I knew. But it is really impossible to put a timeline on something like this. So the answer is ‘I don’t know’. And if you are annoyed by physicists refusing to estimate when results will be ready, then you are not alone. I was speaking with a journalist earlier this week, who was clearly exasperated with me on this point. This was the gist of our conversation.

Journalist: What is the next milestone for ATLAS after first collisions?
Me: Once there are collisions, our next steps will be in the understanding of and the final calibration of the detector.
Journalist: And how long until that is finished and there are first results? A few hours?
Me: ATLAS has roughly 100 million electronics channels and nine different detector technologies. Calibration of that full system is incredibly complex.
Journalist: Two days?
Me: When we are satisfied that any detector-induced effects in the data are understood, we will confirm that we can observe the particles that we already know exist. Particles like the W and Z bosons.
Journalist: One week?
Me: Then we can be in a position to search for physics beyond the standard model.
Journalist: Two weeks?

In the mist of the first beam excitement, I hate to sound like a killjoy about the timeline for new physics results. But I think the focus is wrong. The next milestones for ATLAS might not be Higgs discovery but they are very exciting. Right now, even the background to the Higgs search is unknown to us. And as Peter mentions this is extremely interesting in its own right. So, who knows maybe by the time we are ready to search for the Higgs, it won’t be the most exciting particle in physics anymore….


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7 Responses to “After First Beam”

  1. Jacques says:

    How come you get in contact with the apparently dummiest journalists? Even I, although knowing practically nothing in physics, had deducted that initial tests using cosmic rays, would have to be followed by heavy calibration works once the beam is in operation. And I am an ex-journalist. FYI “killjoy” that I just learnt from you has its exact equivalent in french: “tue-la-joie”. I hope you are making good progress in that language. BTW, when can we have a conversation in french? Tomorrow? In two weeks? One month? ….No answer? … Alas, you don’t know what you don’t know, I know.

  2. David Parker says:

    From all my reading over the last few months, it would appear that the whole of the physics world is pinning its hopes on the LHC providing the answer to the ‘theory of just about everything’. Lets hope something conclusive is found fairly soon (Three weeks? :) ) so that everyone can get back on with their lives again sometime soon. The worst thing that can happen is a hint of something that can only proved by LHC Mk2.
    As a non-physicist I can’t imagine what the guys at Fermilab are feeling right now…

  3. This has got to be the most exciting time in science – this of course coming from a non-scientific, wheat grass growing, middle-aged farm chick, but Sept. 10th to me is as important a day as any in history. My internal experience of the nature of “things” has only been validated and clarified as I have jumped into a very “dummies” level of the study of Quantum mechanics and particle physics.

    It blows my mind that most of us in the world don’t even know about this amazing Supercollider, much less have ever heard of Heisenberg, or Bell or any of the remarkable things that have been going on in science that are pointing directly to Spiritual truths as well. There seems to be a Gap that is closing in the world of “Consciousness” and Science, and I think it is flat out too cool. I am spreading the word about the amazing work you are doing, and am grateful for remarkable minds such as yours, no matter what is or isn’t found. The Higgs Bosun is certainly a huge deal, and just the efforts to get to this point are, in my opinion, spectacular.

    Thanks for keeping us regular folk up to date and thanks again for your work in the world. Smashing! (grin).

  4. Peter says:

    So as I understand it, either Hawking is right and something marginally interesting happens, or Einstein was right and we might make a little black hole at the LHC that isn’t going away. Really? We are really going to do this? I’m all for exploration and discovery, but this really makes sense? I’m not an ‘end of the world’ kinda guy. I am asking a serious question. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something. Especially when we -really truly- don’t know what the result will be but there is a chance (real possibility, however small) that it could be ‘bad’ on a scale much larger than your little workshop.

    How is this not the equivalent of some children smashing a box with a rock to see what’s inside? What if that particular box doesn’t take well to the smashing?

  5. Seth Zenz says:

    Peter, if Einstein was right, there won’t be any black holes at all—but then, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity doesn’t say anything about particle physics. There are strong theoretical reasons to expect microscopic black holes to radiate, and ironclad real-world observational limits on any kind of large-scale disaster produced by LHC-energy protons. You can read about them here:


  6. bart says:

    People who worry about this experiment bringing on the end of the world are sadly misinformed and bring to mind the naysayers who believed in sea monsters and told Columbus that he was doomed.

    This is an exciting time in particle physics and if they only produce 10% of the results they hope for, this will be a smashing success. Bon Voyage!

  7. vinny says:

    ummm i have no idea what any of this is about i just caught a glimpse of it on the news but if anyone may 1)what is the purpose of this beam tomorrow, and 2) whats the whole end of the world thing associated with it about? once again i have no interest in any science, im just a business man lol. thanks for any replies

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