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Archive for September, 2008


Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I heard you, Steve, and not to dance on the ashes here but…boo-yah!

For more information, there’s a Times article this morning and MSNBC’s Alan Boyle posted the PDF of the decision and a run down of the current situation.  Boyle also has a pretty wild posting on the legal activity in early September that’s worth a look, if only to make one sympathetic for Judge Helen Gillmor and her dealings with the various sides.

Before I discuss the order, an interesting issue which arises, as one reads the various accounts, is the disparity between the various construction costs of the LHC reported in the articles, e.g., the $5.8B by the Honolulu Star Bulletin and the $8B reported by Overbye.  Just last night, at a family dinner, I found myself unsure of a “single” number, always fumbling between $5B and $10B — and now I realize that it’s not completely my fault.  Boyle writes:

Cost: $6 billion to $10 billion
Why the wide range of estimates?
Europe’s CERN research organization says it’s investing $6 billion. Adding the value of other contributions since 1994, including the detectors, boosts the total to as much as $10 billion. To some extent, it depends on who’s doing the counting and what the currency rates are.

But today I’ve been struggling reading through the District Court Order to try and understand the various arguments leading to dismissal.  The main issue seems to be whether or not the U.S. participation in the LHC is a “major Federal action” as defined by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), which might require it to file various safety reports.  This is including construction, operation, and control of the project.  Even the lower range of the construction costs was sufficiently large for the judge to deem that the fraction of the total budget the $531M the U.S. contributed to LHC and detector construction (a useful number to keep in mind, if anyone asks) was too small to count as a “major Federal action”. The issue of future funding for operations involves support of U.S. scientists (e.g. us!) and is in the noise of the LHC project, and is thus no issue.  Finally, the U.S. role in the LHC project from now on is spelled out clearly (full of useful cocktail party facts for those of you who collect such things):

According to the evidence before the Court, the United States has minimal control over the LHC project. The 1997 Agreement provides that the construction, operation, and management of the LHC is the responsibility of CERN, an  intergovernmental European agency whose governing council is comprised of 20 European countries. (Strauss Decl. ¶¶ 5, 12.)

The 1997 Agreement, entered into between Federal Defendants and CERN, only gave the United States non-voting “observer” status in CERN’s governing council and no role in financial, policy, or management decisions or operation of the LHC. (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 13.)

And from there it’s all downhill for the plaintiffs.  The US contribution fails on all counts to qualify as a major Federal action, and thus is of no relevance of NEPA, and thus precludes the Federal Court from having any jurisdiction to address Wagner & Sanchos complaints:

Plaintiffs’ Opposition and Rebuttal have not provided any substantive information regarding the subject matter jurisdiction of this Court. Plaintiffs appear to believe they invoked federal jurisdiction by simply filing suit in a federal court. They have not met their burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists. Scott, 792 F.2d at 927.


Of course, while we’re out of the woods here, it’s worthwhile highlighting Judge Gillmor’s concluding paragraph of the order, already quoted at length by Boyle, which capture the frustration many of us have felt about this use of the courts against scientific research:

It is clear that Plaintiffs’ action reflects disagreement among scientists about the possible ramifications of the operation of the Large Hadron Collider. This extremely complex debate is of concern to more than just the physicists.  The United States Congress provided more than $500 million toward the construction of the Large Hadron Collider. But Congress did not enact NEPA for the purpose of allowing this debate to proceed in federal court. “Neither the language nor the history of NEPA suggest that it was intended to give citizens a general opportunity to air their policy objections to proposed federal actions. The political process, and not NEPA, provides the appropriate forum in which to air policy disagreements.” Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy, 460 U.S. 766, 777 (1983).


The Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate this action.
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) is GRANTED.
The entire action is DISMISSED.
Dated: September 26, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii.

I think many of us would have assumed this conclusion from the outset, and that it wouldn’t have required as much legal back-and-forth (and especially wouldn’t require an amici curiae filing from Sheldon Glashow, Frank Wilczek, and Richard Wilson — go figure!).  But Wagner and Sancho seem to have played a tough game and forced a lot of people to spend a lot of time and energy discussing — and defending — the importance and overall safety of the LHC.  In many ways the time wasn’t wasted, as now the world knows a lot more about the physics of the LHC, which was the most important issue all along.  But I speak for many of us who feel that this was ultimately unproductive work for the Court system, our labs, our scientific funding agencies, and their lawyers, and the scientists.

So let’s not let this happen again (I mean, us RHIC & LHC folks have been through this twice now).  Let’s get back to work (and waiting).


The 700 Billion Dollar government bailout of struggling financial institutions in the U.S. will likely soon cast its shadow over government funded science projects. Steve mentioned in his blog last week that things are happening already ‘under the radar’ in Washington that might affect us greatly. As a first step the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of a continuing resolution rather than a real budget until March 09, when the new administration will be in place. The continuing resolution for science funding was frozen to the level of the 2008 budget without any provisions to include the supplemental funding that was late in the year appropriated in order to keep large projects such a Fermilab afloat. So it is expected that, by the beginning of 2009, some of the major U.S. National Laboratories will be in dire financial trouble again . The impact on beam times, experiment operation and new projects etc. can not even be estimated yet. 

There is very little chance that the America Competes act, which asked for doubling the NSF and DoE budgets over the next ten years, can be enacted in these times when presidential candidates are already indicating that their most pressing programs, such as health care, might take a backseat to finding 700 Billion Dollars in the budget that is already weakened by extensive war expenditures.

We need to mobilize the community. We need to make sure that Washington understands that a slowing down of scientific enterprises and government funded research and development will directly lead to a slowing down of the economy and in the long run to a halt of scientific ingenuity, which was the driving force behind much of the market boom in the 90’s, and for that matter throughout the past century. This is not the time to save on science. This is the time to make science innovation one of the pillars of the evolving re-structuring of the market economy.

If you want to help and you are a scientist in the U.S., please join a user group and stay in touch with their outreach efforts. There is, for example, the US-LHC users group (https://www.usluo.org) or the users group at RHIC (http://www.rhicuec.org). All major user groups are part of the National User Facility Organization (http://www.nufo.org), an outreach organization which has, in part, been formed to facilitate more communication between users at national science facilities and lawmakers in Washington. You can also volunteer to become part of a NUFO list that organizes meetings between congressional leaders and scientists in your specific congressional district. Just send information to [email protected] If you are a concerned citizen please make yourself heard by communicating with your local representative in the House and the Senate. 

There might be difficult times ahead for federal funding of basic research. We need to get involved in the process and convince our politicians of something that many major business leaders know for a long time: There is no economic future without scientific innovation.  And this innovation often comes form the most fundamental research projects worldwide. The LHC will be a perfect example.


Lyn Evans on the LHC Status

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Lyn Evans, the LHC Project Leader, gave a public talk on the status of the LHC last Wednesday. Although there are no slides covering the accident on September 19 and its aftermath, he actually spoke at some length on the subject during the talk. I’ve just learned about the talk today — slower, I admit, than some other bloggers — and it turns out that the video from the talk is part of CERN’s public records. He speaks starting about the incident at about the 9 minute mark:

Talk by Lyn Evans

I think these remarks are some of the most in-depth information on what happened, and how long it will take to fix it, that are available publicly from CERN. I certainly learned a lot from them, so I thought they would be worth pointing out to all of you. The short version is that the accident is still under investigation, and some magnets may require replacement or repair, but Dr. Evans is confident that we will be running again in the spring of next year.

For those who are interested in reading rather than listening — the sound isn’t always so good — I have transcribed his remarks “below the fold.” I have done my best to convey his informal remarks accurately, but there may be mistakes, which I apologize in advance for. I stress this very strongly: if you are interested in quoting Dr. Evans for whatever reason, please go back to the official CERN record (i.e. the video of the talk linked above) rather than relying on my transcription.



Case dismissed

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Enough said.


Back to Work

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Okay, I admit it.  It took me all of last week to recover from the bad news.  I spent a lot of the week going to meetings (there were two ATLAS workshops with meetings all day every day), squeezing in some analysis of the data we did get before the accident, and the rest gossiping about the LHC status.

Even being at CERN, it was difficult to get any information on what was going on, so everyone was guessing what happened and what the damage was.  First, I heard “a magnet was damaged”, then two, 50, and 100!  Obviously, none of the people spreading rumors had any real information since none of these rumors was true.  It is strange to have to search the newspapers for an update on what is going on at your workplace.

Anyway, getting back to the emotional recovery…I felt much better after attending a meeting devoted to planning for the next 6 months on Friday.  There is clearly a huge amount of work to still do to be ready to take full advantage of the data we get next year.  While it would have been better to have some collisions this year, the real first chance for discoveries was always going to be next year, and that doesn’t change now.  We just need to be sure we do everything we can before then to be ready.  Back to work.


I was there

Friday, September 26th, 2008

I’ve been thinking about what, if anything, to say about the recent difficulties with the LHC, and the news that we won’t have any beam this year.  What could I say that hasn’t been said already?  I was disappointed to hear the news, but ultimately unsurprised — this is a totally new machine, on a giant scale, so of course some things are going to go wrong.  Truth be told, I didn’t have high expectations for this fall’s running anyway; we knew that there weren’t going to be that many days of collisions, and even then we expected the luminosity to be low.  While we would have learned plenty from it, and it would have been great for shaking down the detector, it’s not like we would have observed any new physics right away.  “This is going to be the greatest experiment of my lifetime — I can wait a few more months,” I thought to myself.

Then I remembered my time as a postdoc at the start of Run II at the Fermilab Tevatron in 2001.  The Tevatron is doing very well now; in the past few days, CDF and D0 both completed collection of five inverse femtobarns of data during the run.  But it was a very difficult startup, and it took a long time to turn the corner.  No one enjoyed it, but I think it was particularly hard to be a postdoc or a student then.  Students need data so that they can do analyses, make measurements, write theses, and get on with their lives.  Postdocs are all in term positions; you can’t stay funded forever, and you want to get some good physics in as soon as you can.  So these were admittedly grim times, and, if my sympathy is worth anything, I do feel for the students and postdocs who have seen the LHC move a little further away.

But let’s remember that in fact things did turn around; CDF and D0 got rolling, and those same students and postdocs are now busy building their careers — many of them on the LHC.  We’ll get through this too, and the delay will motivate us to work even harder to make the best use of this down period, get the detectors and the software and the data analyses in the best shape possible, and be ready for when the beams return.  Once the LHC really gets rolling, the new physics might start hitting us in the face, and we’re going to be prepared.


The Black Hole Come-On Line

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Ok, we’re down until spring. This is for the standard winter shutdown plus fixing and understanding the helium leak. For somebody who has worked at the AGS and RHIC for the last two decades, this series of events is really no surprise. As was said before, these problems occur during a startup phase and are really not indicative of the quality of the overall project or the probability of success in the future. Next year’s long runs are still something to look forward to. But in the meantime we can shift our attention to other, similarly important, things. And because serious issues such as financial bailouts and presidential campaigns are on everybody’s mind, I thought about a more light-hearted topic for this week, which came to my mind during a gathering of physicists and non-physicists this weekend: Finding the right partner for life….

As we all know, it’s hard being a physicist. Let’s not kid ourselves, people often run away at parties when we start talking, they look puzzled, they don’t know how to respond, and quite frankly they don’t really care. That brings up the question: Can the Geek Squad ever score ?

Even if you unlock the mysteries of the creation of the universe, mostly the religious fanatics stay with you in order to prove you wrong, because God made the proton and not Mr. Higgs. So what’s a good physicist in search for a mate to do ? Well, lately I recognize a certain brashness in my younger colleagues by turning a bad thing into a good thing, a new approach which can be described as The Black Hole Come-on Line.

Here is how it works. In the middle of a rather benign conversation about the sub-prime mortgage crisis you start off by saying that you’re working on a project at the biggest atom smasher (or particle creator, although ‘smasher’ is always a winner) in the world (moderate interest ensues),  then you drop the possibility of creating a black hole (eyes widen, but still only slight interest), but then after a well timed pause you mention that it could potentially destroy the earth (unbridled attention and even slight admiration is a given at this point). You need to follow up with the obligatory disclaimer to put the person at ease: well, if we make a black hole that only one of the good kind, too small to break something but big enough for mankind to learn a lot. And there you have them hooked. You go off with them into Black Hole Wonderland, and if you don’t only know ‘Battlestar Galactica’ but also a little ‘Sex and The City’ you might even carry the conversation beyond the courtesy five minute mark.

Well, good luck Young Skywalker and God’s Speed !!


You get what you pay for

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Now, I know that there is impending doom on Wall St and all (How did that happen in fact? Anyone asking that question before we taxpayers bail out the economy?) but as we write Congress is going to consider a continuing resolution since we don’t have an appropriations bill. This means the same funding next year as last year, which was a disaster for science before a “Deus ex Machina” partial recovery that no one wants to relive. Here’s what the president of the American Physical Society has to say:

Congress has not passed any FY 2009 appropriations bills and is now finalizing a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the government operating when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2008. The House is expected to consider the bill on Thursday or Friday of this week. The CR, according to the latest information, will remain in effect until March 6, 2009 and would keep all federal programs operating at FY 2008 levels, except those granted waivers. At this time, science is not on the waiver list, and the proposed bill would not include any of the science increases contained in the Supplemental Appropriations bill Congress passed earlier this year. Unless science receives a waiver, the impact will be extraordinarily damaging.


  • Department of Energy user facilities would be forced to cut back operations substantially
  • A new round of layoffs at the national laboratories could occur
  • The number of university grants would be cut, with new, young investigators especially harmed
  • and

  • The U.S. would be forced to cut to near zero its planned contributions to the global fusion energy project, ITER, damaging the nation’s ability to participate in future international scientific collaborations

Another great read is the editorial written by Norman Augustine, chairman of the “Gathering Storm” commission, in the current edition of Science – I’m pretty sure I’d break a few copyright laws by posting it, but if you have access to Science through an online subscription you can have a look– it is a very poignant look at how science funding is going in the US compared to the rest of the world.

I’m preaching to the choir, and perhaps abusing my podium a bit (note, I am trying to be nonpartisan – this is just if you want the US to continue to lead the world in scientific endeavours), but I suggest you write your representatives and tell them how you feel about Science support in the US. It is easy, just start here

OK, step back from the soap box! On a side note, 60 Minutes has a segment on “The Collider” this week which may prove to be interesting (or embarrasing…)


The dice have been cast

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

This just came in from the CERN directorate:

LHC re-start scheduled for 2009

Geneva, 23 September 2008. Investigations at CERN following a large helium leak into sector 3-4 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) tunnel have indicated that the most likely cause of the incident was a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator’s magnets. Before a full understanding of the incident can be established, however, the sector has to be brought to room temperature and the magnets involved opened up for inspection. This will take three to four weeks. Full details of this investigation will be made available once it is complete.

“Coming immediately after the very successful start of LHC operation on 10 September, this is undoubtedly a psychological blow,” said CERN Director General Robert Aymar. “Nevertheless, the success of the LHC’s first operation with beam is testimony to years of painstaking preparation and the skill of the teams involved in building and running CERN’s accelerator complex. I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with same degree of rigour and application.”

The time necessary for the investigation and repairs precludes a restart before CERN’s obligatory winter maintenance period, bringing the date for restart of the accelerator complex to early spring 2009. LHC beams will then follow.

Particle accelerators such as the LHC are unique machines, built at the cutting edge of technology. Each is its own prototype, and teething troubles at the start-up phase are therefore always possible.

“The LHC is a very complex instrument, huge in scale and pushing technological limits in many areas,” said Peter Limon, who was responsible for commissioning the world’s first large-scale superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab in the USA. “Events occur from time to time that temporarily stop operations, for shorter or longer periods, especially during the early phases.”

CERN has received similar words of support from several laboratories, including Germany’s DESY, home of the HERA superconducting particle accelerator, which ran from 1992 to 2007.

“We at DESY have been following the commissioning of the LHC with great excitement and have been very impressed with the success of the first day,” said Albrecht Wagner, DESY Director. “I am confident that our colleagues at CERN will solve the problem speedily and we will continue to support them as much as we can.”



Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I recently spent a week at a conference on and island in sunny Greece, Naxos.  I had my phone and e-mail access, but it is amazing how fast you feel left out.  Some of it is because I unsubscribed myself from some overactive mailing lists, and some happens because folks have assumed that I would be 100% offline.  

I even started to work on a post, but was sidetracked a bit by talks (and nice sunny weather).   It has been increasingly difficult for me to post with any regularity.  I am as excited to be working here at the LHC as everyone else, but somehow that energy gets spent on things other than blogging. So this is my last post, I’ve decided not to continue any more.

Since I started we went from a very incomplete system (cables missing, etc.) to one that is an integrated part of CMS.  A lot of hard work, some scrapes and sore muscles, some very long days (and nights)…all for a better Regional Calorimeter Trigger.

The recent delay was a discouraging, but these things happen. The LHC a very complicated system, running in a very new way. I hope that we can use this time to polish our system. 

Thanks to everyone for their interest and comments.  Its been fun!

All the best,