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First beam

Tom Feilden | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Well wow! Who knew particle physics could be so exciting?

For a few minutes this morning things got very tense here in the main control room at Cern, but in the end it's gone better than anyone could have hoped.

As I write the first beam of protons is circulating around the entire 27 kilometre ring of the LHC - something that was expected to take all day. Things have gone so well in fact that the operations team are talking about getting a second beam going the other way around.

And all about me hundreds of very excited physicists are smiling broadly and congratulating each other with the kind of bravado that tells you it was no sure thing.

One of the main topics of conversation seems to be who's house the beam is currently running under. Francois Grey won that debate when he reported that his wife had rung to say the dog started to bark at the ground the moment the beam shot by.

Of course this is just the start of the process, and there's still plenty of physics to come. But for now everyone at Cern is just basking in the moment. And after 30 years why not?


  • Comment number 1.

    If the beam is travelling at close to the speed of light - around 11000 laps a second - how would Francois Grey's wife know when the beam was likely to be going by? It's hard to tell when physicists are joking.

  • Comment number 2.

    So far so good. The particle accelerator works. Am I right in saying the really interesting stuff won't happen for a month or so when they start to collide the particles and record the results?

  • Comment number 3.

    I can get my dog to bark for a lot less than £4bn.

    And surely - if they expected the beam to take all day to go 27km it's not going at the speed of light, or anywhere near it.

    Are we sure these guys know what they're doing?

  • Comment number 4.

    If splitting an Atom creates a nuclear explosion, what may splitting a Proton create ?

    If splitting a Proton (or in fact many Protons) creates a great release of energy, have they allowed for this possibility in the design of the Collider ?

  • Comment number 5.

    Great news it went well. Looking forward to the high-energy collisions early next year.

    No doubt the papers tomorrow will be full of stories about how the world didn't end, and blaming the scientists for unduly worrying everyone!

    Meanwhile the majority of the scientific community continues to politely and calmly remind everyone that the scaremongering is quite frankly idiotic, and exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the physics behind this experiment.

  • Comment number 6.

    I thought they were sending the Protons along one section at a time so if there were any blockages then they would be able to locate them quickly and accuratly. I'll presume that's how they know which house it would be under.

  • Comment number 7.

    oohcorblimey wrote: "I can get my dog to bark for a lot less than ?4bn.

    And surely - if they expected the beam to take all day to go 27km it's not going at the speed of light, or anywhere near it.

    Are we sure these guys know what they're doing?"

    The article clearly states that it may take a full day to get it working, not a full day for one loop, don't forget that before this a beam had not been sent around the full circuit until today.

    Also it is not running at the speed of light.. they are testing at low power, not ~7 TeV yet..

    Yes we are sure they know what they're talking about, obviously you don't even have the intelligence to read the article never-mind understand how the particle accelerator operates... so no, YOU are probably not sure that they know what they're talking about.

  • Comment number 8.

    Congratulations to all at CERN.
    I hope that the rest of the warm up goes as well and that the results live up to expectations.

    I am slightly worried by all the media emphasis on the very first steps though - we all know that the papers like a good fast story and that the LHC is going to take a while to start producing data and that will take even longer to interpret. Here's hoping you are still getting the attention you deserve when the results come home

  • Comment number 9.

    nixascyborg needs to calm down, you obviously aren't intelligent enough to realise oohcorblimey made those comments in jest.

    Is there a timetable for when the actual collisions will take place?

    When they collision take place wouldnt this be a more appropiate time to worry about the so called 'end of the world'?

  • Comment number 10.

    well done to all at Cern, agree with the comments about media coverage dwindling when the info actually starts to be collected and there likely to be a Cern website where we can keep up to date with progress?

    p.s. Hawking for the Nobel! (regardless of whether they find Higgs or not)

  • Comment number 11.

    "....oohcorblimey wrote: "I can get my dog to bark for a lot less than ?4bn....."

    Not at just on close to the speed of light. A proton is only a small part of an atom. Assume an approx quantity of atoms contained in your dog and then multiply by 4bn. You would have diminishing costs but it would cost a lot more.

    Well done to all at CERN. When I was young the US spent a lot of money sending a man to the moon. It was inspiring even for a young child in North of England. People moaned about the cost then but 30 plus years on and what can you truly point to as man's most inspired achievement since? CERN is this moments "first man on the moon".

  • Comment number 12.

    The Large Hadron Collider is not *going* to run at the speed of light unless someone breaks some well-understood laws of physics, including some of the ones that require it to be designed the way it is. Period. End of sentence, end of paragraph, end of page, end of book, end of library.

    Moving at the speed of light for anything with real mass requires infinite energy due to the fact that as speed approaches 'c', mass increases, and at 'c', mass is infinite. This has been observed and is well-known; indeed, it is a factor in the design of the LHC itself. The reason they need that much energy in the first place is because of exactly that phenomenon. The LHC is moving very, very small masses, yet it requires huge amounts of electrical power to drive the mechanisms to begin to approach relativistic speeds.

    The reason for the 'slow' speed is, as noted by other posters, that they're testing it segments. This is the first time a beam has been accelerated along the full length of the collider. That's not because of the slow speed of the beam itself but rather because of the (not really) slow speed at which the LHC team is opening up the segments. And it only took them about an hour to move up to the full circulation of the beam - from 0930 CET to 1020-1030 CET, as I recall, not all day. The protons themselves are moving much, much faster than 27 km/h.

    As for splitting the atom and splitting the proton, splitting *one* atom doesn't release all that much energy on the macroscopic scale (that would be the one we experience day-to-day and perceive with our own senses). You get large energy releases from splitting a lot atoms quickly. (Getting a lot of atoms together isn't that hard once you know how to process the proper ores and get the right isotopes, but it *is* necessary.)

    Protons are smaller than any atomic nucleus other than hydrogen-1 (which is a single proton). Even helium-2 (I'm not sure it exists) is two protons, an instant doubling of mass, and truly radioactive atoms start with much higher atomic numbers and masses. The energy released from splitting one is going to be a lot lower simply because there's not as much energy in the system in the first place.

    All of that aside, the scientists and engineers involved have certainly accounted for the energy releases involved. As many have noted, the kind of energy regime involved in the collisions LHC will perform occur millions of times a day in Earth's atmosphere and on the Moon. If they were that dangerous, the evidence of it would be plain to see because of the constant bombardment. It's not there, so the experiments at the LHC (which are lower energy than most of the cosmic ray events I mentioned!) are not going to cause huge nuclear explosions, either.

  • Comment number 13.

    Even if the experiment fails the project will still be a financial success. In design and developement alone the EU holds patents on technology that the world over will want to use. Lets look at the cooling system for a start.

    LHC is the only facility that can reach and maintain "Abosulte Zero", this technology will be used by companies and government all over the world. For instance, a company like Intel will undoubtably want to recreate this temperature for research into yet-to-be designed computer chips.

    All the different patents already filed will make more money for the EU than was spent on the entire project throughout its lifetime... and we haven't even started patenting the technology to come from the results!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Oh dear. "Whose house", not "who's house". Come on the Beeb ...

    What would you get if you arranged for two beams of apostrophes to collide?

  • Comment number 15.

    A very imformative documentary about all this was shown on BBC4 the other night. If I remember rightly the actual collisions are planned for January. First beam one way, then beam at the same time the other and then they open up the collider and see what happens.

    "The End of the World is Neigh!!" really?? I better go out and buy that paper... Honestly! some of the papers about at the moment are less well infomed than the usual pub know it all. "Cut out your pork life, mate get some 'brain' exercise."

  • Comment number 16.

    The LHC is a truly amazing feat of engineering and collaboration and although has cost a vast amount of money is fortunately a win win for the scientific community. If they find the Higgs then great - problem solved....and if they dont - well that'll have the physicists back to the drawing board looking for a new model - which they will also relish. Personally I cant help thinking that the experiment will generate more questions than answers..and probably lead to another 20 years of head scratching and walks in the mountains...

  • Comment number 17.

    To supercalmdown (#4)

    Splitting the atom is possible; "splitting the proton" (in the same manner) is not (in any directly comparable sense). Protons are not fundamental particles but are themselves made up of still smaller particles called "quarks". These quarks are bound together by the "strong nuclear" force (that is actually its name) which displays the property of asymptotic freedom; the harder you try and pull quarks apart, the stronger the force gets. Quarks are therefore never seen individually and always come bound with partners. They typically come as either a pair (known as mesons) or as three bound together (known baryons). Protons, and neutrons, fall into the second catagory. There's also *some* evidence of tetraquarks - an exotic meson composed of 4 quarks - however, if they do exist, they are much less common.

    So, imagine the following: you have two marbles attached to each other by a piece of elastic. As you pull the marbles apart, you store up energy in the elastic. The harder you pull the marbles apart, the more difficult it becomes to pull them further apart. Eventually, the energy denisty in the band is such that it snaps. If we now replace the marbles with quarks and the elastic for the strong nuclear force, at the point of snapping the stored energy is used to create two new quarks at the snapped ends, leading to two pairs of quarks, up from the single pair we started off with.

    Hopefully it is clear that the processes occuring during accelerator collisions are markedly different to those which occur within a fissioning atom.

  • Comment number 18.

    leshwa66, eh no, read it again and read everyone else's comments.. it was serious... a misjudgement on your behalf there.

    As for the timetable, check for the pdf on CERN's website.. its on there... took me two minutes to find.. how come you didn't think of that, since you are superior to everyone?

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear oh dear; the informative science discussion is being lost amongst bickering, what a shame. I must admit, I had thought nixascyborg was being facetious, but never mind. I am happy to keep looking at this blog when there's a chance of fascinating posts like from Lateralis - many thanks for that. I have Brian Greene’s book ‘Fabric of the Cosmos’ at home which I’m struggling with and your post will doubtless help my understanding.

    As for stevewaterfield, yes I too saw that programme on BBC4 on the LHC. It was hosted by the youthful Brian Cox who is a terrific bright-eyed and enthusiastic presenter. The content was first class and didn't show too many repeated sequences; nor did it slip into mediocrity and sensationalism which the stalwart science program ‘Horizon’ seems to have lately. However I only saw the LHC programme because I couldn't sleep and happened to be scanning channels - why do BBC put such terrific programmes on so late (I think it was 4am).

  • Comment number 20.

    Somewhere I read the temperatures will reach that of 100 000 Suns.

    If that isn't exageration then is there not a Global warming issue here ?

    Afterall the cooling system has to dump that heat somewhere !

    Arctic or Antarctic ?

    decisions decisions !

  • Comment number 21.

    To Supercalmdown (comment #20)

    That may be true - I could do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation now to check that but to be honest, I'm not in the mood! However, I'd like to point out that if that number is correct, then the heat will be crammed into a volume orders of magnitude smaller than that of a pinhead. If we now calculate the energy denisty of that energy spread through the globe, then I'm fairly sure the effect will be negligible.

    What I would like to point out though is that the LHC is a one-of-a-kind experiment. The incadescent (tungsten filament) lightbulb operates at temperatures of between 2 and 3 thousand Kelvin. (Note that 0 degrees C is +273 Kelvin). The surface temperature of the sun is ... a couple of thousand Kelvin. I wonder exactly how many of those babies there are in the world...

  • Comment number 22.

    If @corblimey-etc was joking, then it has long been the custom to tack a 'smiley' on the end! ;) (but I think he/she was anyway) :')

    Anyway, in the interests of there being more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, I think it quite feasible that Francois' dog (unlike Schroedinger's cat of course) could detect the electric and magnetic fields from the beam and apparatus circulating below it, or even more simply, the high-pitched whistle the superconducting coils may emit - the accelerator works by sending a 'wave' of EM field energy around the ring to shove the protons around. :>) Only joking!

  • Comment number 23.

    what is frightening is the fact that hawkings radiation is yet to be proven...and i have been told that he has got something wrong before (dunno how true this is tho!)

    but surely the fact it hasnt been proven yet is cause for concern cos alarm bells are sure ringing in my head!!!

    now if i knew for sure that indeed hawkings radiation was proven i would feel more at ease with the whole project but because it hasn't proven i'm extremely worried

    fair enough it all went to plan when they fired the beams around in opposite directions but they are already expriencing problems as the collider is out of action for a possible 2 months and i'm secretly treating this as a blessing in disguise as it means i can relax and sleep well for a couple of months ....

    i reckon that the scientist could use the next couple of months to deeply think about it!!!!!

    and its not fair to put people through all this fear ........

    so maybe the saying to CERN could be "quit whilst you're ahead!"

    never at a more apporiate time have i said it!!!

  • Comment number 24.

    @ Con-cern-edraver:
    A tip: Cern isn't putting evryone through all this fear. It's the media that's doing that.

    Imagine, if you will, that nobody heard that the LHC was being built, or what it was going to be doing. If it was lost as a semi-worthless tidbit on the internet. Nobody would give a damn untill the experiment was finished and the results published. Anyone who knew about it would have found out through actually looking for it, and so would be well-informed about the whole project.

    Now, though, we've got millions of people relying on the Sun to tell them about experimental particle physics...


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