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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Zombies at CERN!

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Some friends of colleagues of mine made a zombie movie here at CERN. It looks pretty neat, and will be available for free soon online, so here’s the trailer:

Now, then. There are some things I should probably clarify:

1. This film has not been authorized or endorsed by CERN.

2. The Higgs boson obviously cannot turn people into zombies. Never mind the biology, it’s enough to know that the Higgs decays instantaneously into more ordinary particles, and never leaves the detector. If any LHC collisions could make zombies, the earth would already be filled with zombies created when ultra high-energy cosmic rays hit the atmosphere.

3. Zombies do not really exist, and they will not eat your brains. Really. I promise.

4. The LHC cannot be operated when anyone is in one its tunnels or experimental caverns. The safety systems that prevent this are quite a bit more sophisticated than the trailer seems to imply.

5. The tunnels in the film aren’t the LHC tunnels — which are continuously being used for science rather than cinematography — but they do appear to be real steam tunnels from some of the buildings here at CERN. Rather interesting and spooky, but maybe not as polished and high-tech as you were expecting.

In conclusion: it’s always fun to see zombies in cool places, especially in your own back yard. I look forward to the movie coming out. For more information, you can look at decayfilm.com, facebook.com/decayfilm, or twitter.com/decayfilm


Take the Helm, Mr. Chekov

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Seth on Pixel Data Aquisition shiftAuthor’s note: This entry is mostly for my mother. If it happens to amuse anyone else, this is purely by coincidence. Also, there is no need to leave comments informing me that I’m an enormous nerd; I have noticed.

It’s true, life here at CERN is pretty much like Star Trek, or at least it looks that way sometimes. After training last month, and some very hectic shifts earlier this month, I’ve finally had a chance to get a picture of myself at the Pixel Detector operation station in the ATLAS control room. I have lots of screens with technical information in front of me, and the front of the room has a full seven projection screens.

Driving the Pixel Detector is not exactly like driving the USS Enterprise, of course. Where they have a navigator and a helmsman helmsperson, we have a shifter who does Detector Control and one who does Data Acquisition. (I do the latter, although I plan eventually to qualify for both so I can operate the whole thing when everything is very stable.) While they do things like “pivot at warp 2” or “reroute auxilliary power through the main deflector dish to produce a tachyon pulse,” we are more likely to “disable a Read Out Driver to re-enter ATLAS combined running” or “consult the data quality shifter about low statistics in the ID cosmic data stream.” The Pixel Detector has a Shift Leader, who’s sort of like the captain, but they’re only around some of the time if nothing exciting is happening. And of course the Pixel shifters are part of a much larger shift crew, which dwarfs the number of people it apparently takes to operate a starship.

Ok, it’s not that much like Star Trek after all, but — dare I say it? — it’s actually cooler, because it’s real.


Is it art or science ?

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Over the past few decades heavy ion and high energy accelerators have inspired not only scientists but also artists to look at the amazing machinery and images we have generated from alternate points of view.

The immediate connection to the art world is obvious in science fiction novels that were inspired by experiments at large collider facilities. The trend was probably started by John Cramer, a physics professor and RHIC colleague of mine from the University of Washington, who also writes sci-fi novels in his free time. His 1997 novel, Einstein’s Bridge, plays at a completed (hence sci-fi) Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), where an experiment generates a ‘bridge’ to another universe inhabited by lots of bad guys.

RHIC was used prominently in Gregory Benford’s 1999 novel, Cosm, where a scientist creates a false vacuum, i.e. a fast evolving miniature universe, during RHIC’s heavy ion collisions.A final example is an early novel of the omnipresent Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, which starts at CERN with the death of a famous physicist and then goes off into Brown’s land of conspiracy and religious evil-doers. As expected, any doomsday scenario will also inadvertently be picked up by Hollywood, and ‘The Void’, an atrocious B-movie from 2001, is playing very poorly on the famous Black Hole scenario, albeit with a cast that includes one the kings of B-movies, Malcolm McDowell.

Now sci-fi novels or movies might be good examples, but they are all too obvious, because the same geeks (myself included) that actually conduct the experiments will also read these books or watch these movies with great pleasure.

But what about ‘real art’ ? Let me state two quite remarkable incidences, which exemplify the value of visualization and imaging conducted at relativistic heavy ion experiments. The STAR event display was probably the most cited science image of 2005. It popped up in every article about RHIC and its physics, made it onto the cover of text books (Tipler and Llewellyn: Modern Physics) and popular science books (Seife: From Alpha to Omega), and it signalled a fact that many scientists often tend to forget, namely that ‘a picture tells a thousand (literally) stories’. But how did it affect the art world ?The first example comes from an artist, named Steve Miller, who approached BNL in 2000 in order to integrate RHIC images in his art. His work culminated in a 2001 exhibition in New York, named Neolithic Quark. You can still see the exhibition on the web, and although art is as always in the eye of the beholder, I think it is fascinating to see how our work inspires artists to look at nature’s art.

The second example, probably slightly more mundane, but nevertheless deeply rooted in pop culture, and therefore probably more timely than any of the others, comes courtesy of the New York Garage Rock Band, The Strokes. The Strokes were the buzz of 2001, when everybody anticipated their debut album, Is This It, to hit stores in the summer of that year. The record came out in international distribution in July, and it featured a provocative album cover showing a naked female body and a shiny black glove. For most music aficionados this was outrageously funny because it pretty much spoofed the famous fictitious Spinal Tap Album, Smell the Glove. But as expected some big chains in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe threatened to boycott the sale of the album, and the record company in the U.S. feared censorship and so decided to ask the group for an alternate cover for the U.S. distribution. In a now famous interview, Julian Casablanca, the Strokes’ lead singer, said that the group was truly inspired by the new cover they chose, which is an event display from the Big European Bubble Chamber (BEBC), a device that was operational at CERN during the 70’s. And although the ‘Smell the Glove’ cover is still a collector’s item, the BEBC cover generated more discussion and hype on the internet and on blogs than most other album covers.

In that sense any press is good press, and although it is sometimes amusing to read explanations of the BEBC cover on the web, the moral of the story is that every penny spent on a good event display at the LHC, will be a good investment in the future and in the eternal preservation of our field for generations to come. As soon as science creates or inspires art we have achieved a level of immortality that transcends the fundamental scientific findings of our field.