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Peter Steinberg | USLHC | USA

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PANIC Can Be Good

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Especially when PANIC is PANIC 2008, Particles and Nuclei in Collision, which was held in Eilat, Israel this year.  I had the honor of giving a plenary talk on the role of “soft physics”: both for helping understand the physics at RHIC, and how the LHC will contribute to our evolving understanding.

I’ve written about “soft” physics before, both as “day 1” contributions to the LHC physics program, and something fascinating in its own right (but heck, I’m biased).  The idea is that the low-energy particles, which are generally seen as “gunk” to be cut away by analyses looking for new high-mass particles, have very simple features if one compares different energies and different systems (e.g. collisions of protons or heavy ions).  RHIC has been interpreting the heavy ion data in terms of a hot, dense thermalized medium, but treating the very similar p+p data as “reference”.

One interesting thing I learned this week was from a talk by my colleague Mike Lisa from OSU that one can systematize the differences between the transverse momentum distributions in p+p and Au+Au simply by accounting for the basic fact that momentum and energy have to be conserved in detail in every event.  Doing this one finds that both systems have the same parent distribution, and the observed differences are merely from the imposition of conservation laws.  This has two immediate reactions based on people I spoke to: 1) the “trivial” interpretation that all systems are “nothing but phase space”, and 2) the “deep” interpretation that heavy ions both show indications (nearly identical ones!) that the system is similarly hot and dense and “flows” like a fluid.  Unfortunately for those who buy in to #1, #2 has much more experimental evidence supporting it, as Mike and his student point out in their papers.  Interesting stuff and very much worth a look.

And unsurprisingly, I’ve posted photos.


LHC Inauguration LIVE!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

You may have already been watching this all day but the LHC inauguration is being webcast live — but if you weren’t, you’ve already missed alpinekat and crew, who rocked.

And it just occurred to me that alpinekat and the Canettes Blues Band are all ATLAS people.  Needless to say, I’ve been to some pretty good ATLAS parties over the last couple of years…


An Official Word

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

CERN has released an interim report on the 9/19 incident:


Interesting reading, especially the full report posted here:


It includes a detailed primer on the LHC configuration and layout, which is essential for understanding where the problem started (an electrical bus between two magnets) and how it spread to the cryogenic system.



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).


Not so Fast

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Are we sure that we made it? The IEDAB is not so sure:

Urgent update, September 10, 2008

It is our duty to inform you that as of 7:35:05am UTC on September 10, 2008, the Earth has been destroyed.

The destruction of Earth was first reported by Mr Jonathan Barber of Wisconsin, United States, who spotted that his home-made seismic Earth Detector had ceased to give readings at around 8:00am (2am local time). Several other amateur geocide spotters noticed this at the same time but Mr. Barber was the first to place a telephone call to the IEDAB’s Geocide Hotline (+44 115 09Ω 4127, ask for Other Dave) at which point IEDAB officials performed an emergency check of their own instrumentation and verified Mr. Barber’s report, as well as fixing the exact time of geocide.

Evidence is still being collated, but preliminary results suggest that the Earth was destroyed pre-emptively by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, before the commencement of their experiments to locate the Higgs Boson, as a precautionary measure to ensure that the experiment itself could not result in the destruction of the Earth.

(Thanks, Jo!)


From BNL to CERN (Cake)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

BNL sends its congratulations to CERN, and to its own who have been working on the LHC and ATLAS for years now! Slice of cake, anyone?


BNL Media Event

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It seems the webserver is back up and stronger than ever!

Anyway, here we are at BNL for the media day.  We started downstairs in the remote monitoring room in the Physics building, heard from the lab director and Marc Alessi (our State Assemblyman).  Now we’re upstairs in a videoconferencing room with a video connection to CERN, where several BNL folks are fielding questions from journalists.

Anyway, here are more photos on my flickr feed.


The Last pre-LHC Jamboree

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

As the world acclimates itself to the inevitable start up of the LHC, the scientists are wasting no time getting ready, gathering in groups all over the place getting ready for the data (a trickle at first, but which may grow into an overflowing river rather quickly…).  I’m here at BNL now, at a three-lab “Jamboree”, where people are catching up with the latest software tools, analysis techniques, and up-to-date simulated data sets (believe it or not, the more data you have, the more simulations you need to correct away experimental effects…).

I also just found out that there’s a whole web page for “first beam” activities.  Check it out especially if you’re in the neighborhood of AZ, CA, FL, IL, IN, NY, MA, OR, TX, or VA.


Turning Back Time

Monday, September 8th, 2008

No no no, no black holes here, but I just wanted to mention something that goes essentially unmentioned in the current torrent of press on the upcoming LHC start up.  As Monica mentioned, there will only be single beams going ’round the ring.  But more importantly, it will be at “injection” energy (450 GeV), i.e. the energy provided by the SPS, the previous ring in the CERN complex.

So even if (and ideally when) the LHC folks bring two of these beams into collisions, the energy will be much lower, i.e. 900 GeV.  This is an energy well-known to high energy physicists from the 80’s (as shown in the mini-history above) and there are quite a few UA1 and UA5 papers from that energy.  Thus, it will give the current batch of experiments the chance to turn back the clock a little bit, and see if they got things right a generation ago.  From my awed perspective, as I consider the complexity of the machine and especially the detectors, I can’t imagine a more useful thing to do to reassure ourselves that things more or less make sense.

And so you all can put those death threats on ice, at least for a few months.  The LHC as we will know it will not be fully operational on Wednesday after all.  That said, a short recap of HEP circa 1987 (“Rick Astley” physics? “Bon Jovi” physics?) should still be pretty exciting — and certainly benign by all accounts.

(A little aside, it’s surprisingly hard to put accurate points on the plot above.  One can find start years easily.  Similarly, one can find the highest energy each machine reached.  So it really seems that historically, machines rarely start at their peak, and generally take a certain amount of time to reach full capability.  One wouldn’t be off base for presuming a similar story at the LHC.)

(Another aside: why the heck did I have to make that compilation myself?  Does anyone know of a bigger/badder/better/more version?)


The LHC, in 1500+ Pages

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

If you’re at all interested in just how much work has gone into the LHC and its detectors, the Journal of Instrumentation has posted the 7 machine and detector papers online for free.  I just checked, and it’s more than 1500 pages to catch up on before the big media event next week.

Normally these journals are quite greedy judicious (i know, i know, it’s a business!) about releasing refereed publications online to get ’em while they’re hot!