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Posts Tagged ‘WWW’

 To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Discover magazine created a list of the The 12 Most Important Trends in Science Over the Past 30 Years. High-energy particle physics and Fermilab played a part in three of these 12 game-changing research break throughs. Here’s a look at these Discover-selected trends and Fermilab’s contributions to them.

 Trend: The Web Takes Over

Pictured is Fermilab's 2001 home page, which was designed in 1996. Twenty years ago, Fermilab helped to pioneer the URL. It launched one of the first Web sites in the country in 1992. Credit: Fermilab

The first concept for what would become the World Wide Web was proposed by a high-energy particle physicist in 1989 to help physicists on international collaborations share large amounts of data. The first WWW system was created for high-energy physicists in 1991 under the guidance of CERN. 

A year later, Fermilab became the second institution in the United States to launch a website. It also helped initiate the switch easy-to-remember domain name addresses rather than Internet Protocol addresses, which are a string of numbers. This switch helped spur the growth of the Internet and WWW.

Particle physics also secured a place in sports history through its computing savvy. A softball club at CERN, composed of mostly visiting European and American physicists, many connected to Fermilab, was the first ball club in the world to have a page on the World Wide Web, beating out any team from Major League Baseball.

Trend: Universe on a Scale

The field of cosmology has advanced and created a more precise understanding of the evolution and nature of the universe. This has brought high-energy particle physics, cosmology and astronomy closer together. They have begun to overlap in the key areas of dark energy, dark matter and the evolution of the universe.  Discover magazine cites as being particularly noteworthy in these areas the first precise measurement of cosmic microwave background, or CMB, radiation left over from the Big Bang and the discovery with the aid of supernovas that the  expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Dark Energy Camera under construction at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab

Fermilab physicists study the CMB with the Q/A Imaging Experiment, or QUIET. They study dark energy with several experiments, most notably the long-running Sloan Digital Sky Survey , the Dark Energy Survey, which will be operational at the end of the year, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, potentially operating at the end of the decade or mid-next decade.  

Trend: Physics Seeks the One

During the last few decades the particle physics community has sought to build a mammoth international machine that can probe the tiniest particles of matter not seen in nature since just after the time of the Big Bang.

Initially, this machine was planned for the United States and named the Superconducting Super Collider. Scientists and engineers from Fermilab help with the design and science suite of experiments for the SSC, which was under construction in Texas until it was canceled in 1993.

A similar machine, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, did take shape, starting operation in 2008. Fermilab played a key role in the design, construction and R&D of the accelerator with expertise garnered through the Tevatron accelerator construction, cutting-edge superconducting magnet technology and project managers.

The U.S. CMS remote operation center at Fermilab. Credit: Fermilab

Fermilab now serves as a remote operation center for CMS, one of the two largest experiments at the LHC. Many physicists work on CMS as well as one of the Tevatron’s detector teams, DZero and CDF.  The United States has the largest national contingent within CMS, accounting for more than 900 physicists in the 3,600-member collaboration.

 Fermilab’s computing division serves as one of two “Tier-1” computing distributions centers in the United States for LHC data. In this capacity, Fermilab provides storage and processing capacity for data collected at the LHC that is analyzed by physicists at Fermilab and sent to U.S. universities for analysis there.

Discover magazine cited as a goal of the LHC the search for the Higgs boson, a theorized particle thought to endow other particles with mass, which allows gravity to act upon them so they can form together to create everything in the visible world, such as people, planets and plants. The LHC and the Tevatron are racing to find the Higgs first. The Tevatron has an advantage searching in the lower mass range and the LHC in the higher mass range. Theorists suspect the Higgs lives in the lower mass range. So far, the Tevatron has greatly narrowed the possible hiding places for the Higgs in this range.

— Tona Kunz

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I’ve been thinking about it since this yesterday, and I’ve finally decided to take the plunge: I’m going to say a few words about the blogosphere debate on the CDF “ghost muon” paper.  I know that, by the demanding standards of the Internet, this is old news; the posts that started the mess were an eternity ago, last week.  In my defense, I have been traveling for the entire time, to Berlin and a few cities in Poland, in what now seems a confused blur of night trains and buses.  And in any case, I think my comments are universal enough that they’re worth making even if the debate is starting to die down.

I have relatively little to say about the paper itself, which was submitted last week but is not yet published.  Very briefly, the paper discusses a series of particle collisions seen by the CDF detector at the Tevatron Collider at Fermilab that appear to possibly contain muons which decayed from a very long-lived unknown particle — or maybe there’s a less dramatic explanation, and nobody’s figured it out yet exactly.  If you haven’t heard about this at all, I strongly recommend you go to Cosmic Variance for a more substantial summary.   One very big debate on the paper is whether it ought to have been submitted for publication in its present form; many experts who I know personally say that CDF should have been more careful in investigating the possible sources of the signal before publishing, and much of the CDF collaboration (including my colleagues at Berkeley) chose to take their names off of the paper’s author list.  The counter-argument, which won the day in the collaboration’s final decision, is that everything that could be done had been done, and that it was time to send the work out to the wider particle physics community to see if the signal could be understood and duplicated by other experiments.

A second “debate” is much more disturbing, centering on speculation that a group of theorists had written a new theory based on inside information from the paper before it was published.  When the group denied this, Tommaso Dorigo (who works on CDF and CMS) accused them point-blank of lying.  The exchange, originally in blog comments, is summarized here by Dr. Dorigo.  Although he qualifies his accusation a bit, he seems to stand by it and even reiterates it in the process of apologizing.

This kind of in-your-face accusation goes beyond the appropriate boundaries of professional discourse.  It seems to stem the bizarrely-prevalent idea that being really obnoxious in public is normal, as long as it’s on the Internet.  Would you, dear reader, put up a poster calling your boss an idiot, or give a newspaper interview in which you speculate that one of your coworkers is a liar?  No, you wouldn’t!  And nothing changes because our job happens to be physics, or the venue happens to be the World Wide Web.  Of course we all have the right to free speech, but what we choose to say has consequences; others have the right to choose whether or not to collaborate with me, whether at the personal level or the level of a large-scale experiment, and one thing they can and will think about is whether I’m going to publicly insult them.

One of the theory paper authors, Professor Nima Arkani-Hamed, wrote a several part response to these accusations, but one part of his comment really struck me.  It was about the physics blogosphere as a whole: he called it “brown muck” and said that he has “a very dim view of the physics blogosphere, and avoid[s] interacting with it.”  Upon reflection, this is a fair comment.  Many — though by no means all — of the physics blogs seem to spend a disturbing amount of time on personal “clashes” between “epic” personalities.  The ultimate example of this is found in the insults exchanged between Peter Woit and Lubos Motl, each of whom command large opposing followings (at least on the Internet) in the so-called “String Wars.”  The problem is that their extreme viewpoints and aggressive tactics don’t reflect what most physicists think about the issues; their drama, like these latest accusations about the ghost muons, is largely manufactured for consumption by the blogosphere.

I would like to think that the US/LHC Blogs offer a different vision, one that falls outside of Dr. Arkani-Hamed’s criticism.  We are, first and foremost, an outreach site.  We seek to explain the excitement of our work — the wonder of the Laws of Nature we’re trying to investigate, and the fantastic machines that we use for that investigation.  Of course we tell you about our lives in the process, to give you an understanding of what our work really involves.  We want to explain what our work means to you and why it’s worth your tax dollars, and we want to get young people excited about learning and maybe getting into careers in science.  Of course we also have interpersonal conflicts, nasty suspicions, and hallway rumors — just like anybody does — but in my opinion we’re not here to tell you about that stuff for two reasons: first, because all that nonsense is not what’s essential or exciting about our work, and second, because we owe our colleagues (and potential colleagues) the courtesy of not being rude to them in public.

I hope those of you who read our blog are looking for the stories that we think are important to tell; if not, sadly, it appears that you have a wealth of alternatives to choose from.  But I have been wondering about something, and in the words of Tommaso Dorigo, “I should like to open a poll for those heroic readers who came to the bottom of this post.”  Do you think all this infighting is valuable to know about?  Does it help the overall cause of expanding interest in, and knowledge about, our work?  (In fairness, Dorigo, Motl, and Woit are also known for writing very informative posts about subjects within their expertise.)  Or does the partisan warfare and discourtesy simply serve to distract readers seeking real knowledge?

You know my opinion on those questions, but I’d like to hear yours.  Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of Nima Arkani-Hamed: “I’m sure you’ll agree that there is more critical physics to do than there are hours in the day to do it, and I for one would like to get back to work.”

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Is that what I think it is…?

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

After reading recently about the 15th anniversary of the World Wide Web, I took a little surf over to the location of the world’s first website, http://info.cern.ch. I was looking at screen captures from one of the early web browsers, from 1993, when I saw this:

ATLAS on Tim Berners-Lee’s 1993 Web Browser

[CERN copyright]

The color scheme threw me off for a second, but that image looked really familiar. I must have seen an experiment like that somewhere before… And indeed, if you click on the photo to zoom in, the highlighted text is “ATLAS.” Anyway, I’d recognize those toroids anywhere.

This is an amazing reminder of just how long it takes to build a modern collider detector, and of just how different life was fifteen years ago. When you wanted to buy something, you went to a store or ordered it on the phone. When you had to look up an obscure fact, you went to the library. When you had a random opinion to share, unless you were really famous, you could only deliver it to people you met in person. I was eleven. Yet physicists and engineers had been working toward building the ATLAS detector for years already, and on paper—and on a little experiment in information-exchange being developed at CERN—it was already looking almost exactly like its final form.

The amount the world has changed since then is staggering, but so is the amount of effort that has gone into making ATLAS, the LHC, and the other experiments a reality. It’s a lot better to be able to see ATLAS on a webcam than just on a web browser.

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Eat your heart out, Al Gore

Friday, March 14th, 2008

So, I was walking through the hallway in Building 1 at CERN on my way to the bus and I came upon this nice plaque commemorating one of CERNs most ubiquitous contributions to society.

Building 1 Plaque

Unfortunately I didn’t get the text verbatim, and my phone camera doesn’t have the best resolution, but the upshot is that it was in this hallway and in nearby building 31 that Mr. (now Sir) Tim Berners-Lee and compadres developed the web – they are responsible for the terms “www”, “http”, “url”, “html” etc. Consider the impact that has made!

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