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Flip Tanedo | USLHC | USA

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Forget black holes… ninjas at the LHC?

There might be a more immediate threat than black holes at the LHC… ninjas working for shady arms dealers intent on a new world order!

A ninja at the LHC. No... really. Image from the GI Joe Movie fankit.

A ninja at the LHC. No... really. Image from the GI Joe Movie fankit.

Ok, I’m being facetious. I just got back from watching the new action movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. As someone who grew up watching the G.I. Joe cartoon in the 80s and reading the many iterations of G.I. Joe comic books, I couldn’t help but go out to watch the film despite my low (i.e. nonexistent) expectations for anything academy award-worthy.

What I felt like sharing with the US LHC blogosphere, however, was an oblique mention of the LHC in the middle of the movie. There’s technically some small spoilers ahead… but look, I don’t think anybody is going to watch this movie for its plot, so I’ll spill the beans.

One of the movie bad-girls, the Baroness — because she’s married to a French baron — forces her physicist husband to activate some nano-bot missiles using a “particle accelerator in France.”  Did I mention that the French baron is also a particle physicist? Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Anyway, the scene involves the ninja assassin Storm Shadow (pictured above) slicing up some innocent particle physicists (experimentalists, no doubt*). In the background of all this is a big machine that looks very similar to the ATLAS detector.

Those of you who have attended one of the “Science of Angels & Demons” talks will be familiar with the misrepresentations of particle physics labs. (Lab coats, windows to the interaction point, …) But like the many liberties in science, technology, and plausibility that the movie takes, one is just asked to take these in stride; this isn’t meant to be a `cerebral’ film, it’s a movie about action figures.

By the way, how should you know that the premise of “activating” nano-bots using the LHC is silly? The energy scales at the LHC can be converted into length scale**. If one does a back-of-the-envelope calculation, one finds that the TeV-scale energies probed by the LHC corresponds to length of  roughly 10^{-19} meters. This is way smaller than a “nanobot” or anything that would be built out of atoms. For a concrete comparison, Cornell’s `nanoguitar‘ is only on the order of 10^{-5} meters.

So trying to use the LHC to ‘activate’ nanobots would be like trying to use a toothbrush to wash your kitchen floor… only your toothbrush would be the width of a DNA molecule and your kitchen floor would be the size of Jupiter.

While we’re at it, here are a few other priceless particle physics ‘moments’ in recent blockbusters:

  • Star Trek (2009): Vulcans in the future work with ‘red matter,’ a fictional substance that can warp space and is presumably named to mimic ‘dark matter.’
  • Spiderman 3 (2007): While fleeing the police, Flint Marko accidentally falls into a particle accelerator (apparently a chain-link fence is a sufficient barrier to synchrotron radiation in the Marvel universe), turning him into the supervillain The Sandman.
  • The World is Not Enough (1999): Okay, this movie is now a decade old, but I’ll never forget the ridiculous scene where Denise Richardson pulls herself out of some large service pipe, peels off a tight-fitting jumpsuit, and introduces herself as “Christmas Jones, I’m a theoretical physicist.” (At least I remember her saying that, it was so long ago.)

Anyway, to all my experimental colleagues: keep an eye out for ninjas!

-Flip (“… I’m a theoretical physicist.”)

* — I say this because it’s a well-known fact that most theorists posses crazy ninja abilities.

** — The idea of converting energy scales to length scales comes from the observation that nature appears to have ‘fundamental’ dimensionful constants. For example, the speed (=length / time) of light is constant which sets an `equality’ between length and time. Similarly, Planck’s constant (h-bar) sets an equality between energy and rate (inverse time). Thus one can convert an energy (TeV) into a length scale by dividing by the speed of light, dividing by the Planck constant and then taking the inverse of the result. This isn’t an exact relation since sometimes the constants are defined with factors of pi floating around, but it gives an order of magnitude estimate for the relation between length and energy scales.

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