• John
  • Felde
  • University of Maryland
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • USLHC
  • USLHC
  • USA

  • James
  • Doherty
  • Open University
  • United Kingdom

Latest Posts

  • Andrea
  • Signori
  • Nikhef
  • Netherlands

Latest Posts

  • CERN
  • Geneva
  • Switzerland

Latest Posts

  • Aidan
  • Randle-Conde
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Belgium

Latest Posts

  • TRIUMF
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Canada

Latest Posts

  • Laura
  • Gladstone
  • MIT
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Steven
  • Goldfarb
  • University of Michigan

Latest Posts

  • Fermilab
  • Batavia, IL
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Seth
  • Zenz
  • Imperial College London
  • UK

Latest Posts

  • Nhan
  • Tran
  • Fermilab
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Alex
  • Millar
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australia

Latest Posts

  • Ken
  • Bloom
  • USLHC
  • USA

Latest Posts

Zoe Louise Matthews | ASY-EOS | UK

View Blog | Read Bio

Impossible things: ALICE and the new energy frontier

The next 24 hours are going to be critical for the LHC – the most challenging to date. They will make a first attempt to collide protons with 7 TeV centre of mass energy. This is far more than any accelerator has ever achieved, and it is not clear what we expect to find there. Physicists and engineers alike are about to leap into the unknown.

Last week I was in meetings at CERN finding out how prepared we are to deal with this uncertainty, and I took the opportunity to catch up with ALICE physicists and see how they were feeling. I spoke to experimentalists and theorists alike and it seems that there is no outcome we can’t be excited by. The theorists all have their own ideas – which contradict each other in measurable places – and many of the ideas on first glance seem to be completely mad. This is something I came across in the strange quark matter conference too, and if you look back on science’s history you can see that with every newly broken boundary in measurement comes wild, strange ideas to explain the unexpected, that are ridiculed and criticised and tested…and some are often surprisingly illuminated as the “uncomfortable truth”. This is a phrase that Johann Rafelski brought up with me over coffee last week and I like it, because it points to why these seemingly topsy turvy concepts have to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Since the recent release of Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, I have been looking back over Carroll’s books and the ideas they conjured. It is not uncommon to look at “Through the looking glass” from a scientist’s perspective, as any wiki page will tell you (things like C-Parity or chirality and the idea of imperfect symmetries as an example) but the point that the first book (and indeed the film) really hits home is the idea that a little imagination or “madness” is desirable. “Believing as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast” may well be as good a practice for the budding scientist as developing a sense of criticism, because just as red herrings and ignorance hinder development, so does the refusal to accept the possibility of new, radical ideas despite the evidence to support them. Luckily for particle physics it is not lacking in imaginative physicists, and the best part about it is that they also can’t wait to prove their ideas wrong, which makes the whole process converge so nicely.

“Have I gone mad?”

“I’m afraid so, entirely bonkers. But let me tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

I have made a short video with interviews from the ALICE group describing their excitement for the coming days. There is nothing more thrilling to a scientist than the unknown. I may upload it to a resources page soon. For now though, I must go and prepare the Birmingham University Physics West Lecture room as a hub for live feeds to CERN, so that staff and students across campus can keep track of the developments tomorrow. If you want to keep an eye on what is happening, try here:

http://webcast.cern.ch/lhcfirstphysics/

http://cern.ch/atlas-live-mediaday/

And of course, I am sure the news will be following the progress!

Share

Comments are closed.