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Steve Nahn | USLHC | USA

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The King Kong of Protons

I was wandering through some of the media results of last fall (procrastinating on writing more lecture notes) and came across the Scientific American podcast with both Frank Wilczek and editor George Musser talking about the LHC and all manner of particle physics stuff.  At some point the interviewer asked George whether the “Large” in “Large Hadron Collider” described the hadrons or the collider.  George of course said it’s the collider, the hadrons are all about the same size, “ten to the minus fifteen meters”.  However, the transcription says:

Musser: … and the energies they have, but they are all 10 to 15 meters across, the protons.

A proton the size of a bus!  Now there’s a Nobel winning find for you.

This just shows the pratfalls of all the media interest – it is a tricky business to convey the message in terms people can grok.  Here a simple slip-up in transcribing scientific notation leads to an error of a factor of 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000)- (although I’d expect Scientific American to do a little better).  It’s a little like playing the “telephone game” – you whisper something sensible to someone, they whisper it to the next person, who whispers to the next, and 10 people down the line the message is some odd permutation of the original.

Anyway, I got a kick out of the idea of a gargantuan proton.  I hope no lawsuits ensue.

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4 Responses to “The King Kong of Protons”

  1. Tim J says:

    A certain electronics magazine I used to read changed printers, and the new ones obviously didn’t know about scientific units – I wrote to the editor asking whether he realised his magazine was advertising 1 MW lasers! Scary.

  2. Blake Stacey says:

    Discover had an April Fool article many years ago about the discovery of the “bigon”. . . .

  3. Tim J says:

    I’m still trying to imagine what a 10m proton would be like. Would it still have the usual mass – the same density? Would that be sufficient to make it into a black hole? Would you want to meet one going at relativistic speeds?!

  4. Tim J says:

    That was meant to read “usual mass – or the same density”, i.e. would it be incredibly spread out, or incredibly heavy?

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