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Radio 4 has exclusive access to CERN'S Big Bang experiment: programming for Big Bang Day


Programming for Big Bang Day on BBC Radio 4

 

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Andrew Marr will bring live reports to listeners throughout the day. Details will be given on the website nearer the time of switch-on. Related CERN features on Radio 4 are also to be broadcast during Today, Woman's Hour and Front Row.

 

History Of CERN

9.00-9.30pm, Monday 8 September and Tuesday 9 September

 

Quentin Cooper talks to the people involved in the story of CERN's development from its early days in the uneasy post-Second World War years, through the height of the Cold War when it became one of the few places in which pioneering scientific ideas were shared between East and West, until the present day and the huge multinational pool of scientific endeavour that exists today.

 

He hears of the breakthroughs achieved over the past 50 years and discovers some of the advantages and disadvantages of working for an organisation that straddles international borders both literally and metaphorically.

 

Engineering Solutions

9.00-9.45am, Wednesday 10 September

 

CERN's LHC is the most complicated scientific apparatus ever built. Its hi-tech magnets have enough superconducting wire to stretch to the Sun and back five times over; at its heart, the vacuum will be ten times better than on the surface of the Moon; bunches of billions of protons, finer than a human hair, will circle its 27km rings 11,000 times a second. And the two huge experiments watching the results of collisions between the protons are effectively giant 100-megapixel digital cameras, taking 40 million shots a second.

 

Many of the technologies hadn't even been invented when the scientists started building the LHC. Adam Hart-Davis discovers what it takes to build the world's most intricate discovery machine.

 

Particle Physics Rocks

11.00-11.30am, Wednesday 10 September

 

Is particle physics the new rock 'n' roll? It may seem the domain of nerdy science boffins, but the extraordinary questions that particle physics hopes to answer have attracted the attention of some very high profile, and unusual, fans. Alan Alda, Ben Miller, John Barrowman, Eddie Izzard and Dara O'Briain all have interests in this branch of physics.

 

Brian Cox, CERN physicist and former member of Nineties band D:Ream, tracks down some well-known celebrity enthusiasts and takes a light-hearted look at why this subject can really appeal to all of us, as it attempts to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our place in it.

 

Brian takes comedian and actor Ben Miller to CERN itself, to get a sense of the scale of the project, and visits Alan Alda in New York to find out why he is so fascinated by the search for the fundamental particles of nature. And John Barrowman, star of Torchwood, explains his amazement with the scale and ambition of CERN.

 

Afternoon Play: Torchwood: Lost Souls

2.15pm, Wednesday 10 September

 

"Somewhere out there in that chaos of darkness and light, of science and protons, of gods and stars and death... somewhere there's an answer."

 

The Torchwood Institute was founded by Queen Victoria in 1879 to protect the British Empire against the threat of alien invasion. By 2008, all that remains of the organisation is a small team based in Cardiff. And now, following the tragic deaths of two of their colleagues, the remaining three – Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones – have to protect the human race against another unknown force from the darkness.

 

Martha Jones, ex-time traveller and now working as a doctor for a UN task force, has been called to CERN – the world's largest particle physics laboratory in Geneva – where they're about to activate the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

 

The LHC is a particle accelerator which has been built deep underground in a 27km tunnel under Switzerland and France. Once activated, the collider will fire beams of protons together, recreating conditions a billionth of a second after the Big Bang – and potentially allowing the human race a greater insight into what the Universe is made of.

 

But so much could go wrong – it could open a gateway to a parallel dimension, or create a black hole – and now voices from the past are calling out to people and scientists have started to disappear...

 

Where have the missing scientists gone? What is the secret of the glowing man? What is lurking in the underground tunnel? And do the dead ever really stay dead?

 

Torchwood is a spin-off from the award-winning BBC Wales TV production Torchwood. Written by Joseph Lidster, it stars John Barrowman, Freema Agyeman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd, Lucy Montgomery (of Tittybangbang) and Stephen Critchlow.

 

5 Particles

3.45-4.00pm, Monday 1 to Friday 5 September

 

In the week of the switch-on of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, Simon Singh looks at the stories behind the discovery of five of the universe's most significant subatomic particles.

 

1. The Electron

Just over a century ago, British physicist JJ Thompson, experimenting with electric currents and charged particles inside empty glass tubes, showed that atoms are divisible into indivisible elementary particles. But how could atoms be built up of these so-called corpuscles? An exciting 30-year race ensued to grasp the planetary model of the atom with its orbiting electrons, and the view inside the atom was born. While the number of electrons around the nucleus of an atom determines the chemistry of all elements, the power of electrons themselves have been harnessed for everyday use: electron beams for welding, cathode ray tubes and radiation therapy.

 

2. The Quark

"Three Quarks for Master Mark! Sure he hasn't got much of a bark." James Joyce's Finnegans Wake left its mark on modern physics when physicist Murray Gell Mann proposed this name for a group of hypothetical subatomic particles that were revealed in 1960 as the fundamental units of matter. Basic particles, it seems, are made up of even more basic units called quarks that make up 99.9% of visible material in the universe. But why do we know so little about them? Quarks have never been seen as free particles but, instead, inextricably bound together by the Strong Force that in turn holds the atomic nucleus together. This is the hardest of nature's fundamental forces to crack, but recent theoretical advances mean that the properties of the quark are at last being revealed.

 

3. The Anti-particle

It appears to be the stuff of science fiction. Associated with every elementary particle is an anti-particle which has the same mass and opposite charge. Should the two meet and combine, the result is annihilation – and a flash of light. Thanks to mysterious processes that occurred after the Big Bang there are a vastly greater number of particles than anti-particles. So how could their elusive existence be proved? At CERN, particle physicists are crashing together subatomic particles at incredibly high speeds to create anti-matter, which they hope will finally reveal what happened at the precise moment of the Big Bang to create the repertoire of elementary particles and anti-particles in existence today.

 

4. The Neutrino

It's the most populous particle in the universe. Millions of these subatomic particles are passing through each one of us. With no charge and virtually no mass they can penetrate vast thicknesses of matter without any interaction – indeed the Sun emits huge numbers that pass through Earth at the speed of light. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. As a result they're extremely difficult to detect. But, like HG Wells' invisible man, they can give themselves away by bumping into things at high energy, and detectors hidden in mines are exploiting this to observe these rare interactions.

 

5. The Next Particle

The "sparticle" – a super symmetric partner to all the known particles – could be the answer to uniting all the known particles and their interactions under one grand theoretical pattern of activity. But how do researchers know where to look for such phenomena and how do they know if they find them? Simon Singh reviews the next particle that physicists would like to find if the current particle theories are to ring true.

 

The Great Big Particle Adventure

9.00-9.30pm weekly, from Wednesday 10 September

 

The huge new LHC accelerator at CERN, costing $6billion, is designed to ask the most fundamental questions in science – what is the stuff of the Universe, where did it come from, how does it work, and would existence be possible if it were any different? In this series, comedian and physicist Ben Miller asks the CERN scientists what they hope to find.

 

1. Atom (10 September)

The notion of atoms dates back to Greek philosophers who sought a natural mechanical explanation of the Universe, as opposed to a divine one. The existence of what we call chemical atoms, the constituents of all we see around us, was not proved until a hundred years ago, but almost simultaneously it was realised these weren't the indivisible constituents the Greeks envisaged. Much of the story of physics since then has been the ever-deeper probing of matter until, at the end of the 20th century, a complete list of fundamental ingredients had been identified, apart from one, the much discussed Higgs particle. In this programme, Ben finds out why this last particle is so pivotal, not just to atomic theory, but to our very existence – and how hopeful the scientists are of proving its existence.

 

2. Who Ordered That? (17 September)

The atoms that make up our material world are important to us but, it turns out, they are not so significant on the cosmic stage. In fact, early in the search for the stuff of atoms, researchers discovered particles that played no part in earthly chemistry – for example, particles in cosmic rays that resemble electrons (the stuff of electricity and the chemical glue in molecules) in almost all respects except that they weigh 140 times more. "Who ordered that?" one Nobel laureate demanded. They also discovered anti-matter – the destructive mirror-image particles that obliterate all matter they come into contact with. In fact, the Universe is mostly made up of particles that could never make atoms, so that we are just the flotsam of the cosmos. But the main constituent of the Universe, what makes 80% of creation, has never been seen in the lab. Researchers at CERN believe they can create samples of it, down here on Earth.

 

3. Origins (24 September)

If the LHC is successful, it will explain the nature of the Universe around us in terms of a few simple ingredients and a few simple rules. But the Universe now was forged in a Big Bang where conditions were very different and the rules were very different, and those early moments were crucial to determining how things turned out later. At the LHC they can recreate conditions as they were billionths of a second after the Big Bang, before atoms and nuclei existed. They can find out why matter and anti-matter did not mutually annihilate each other to leave behind a Universe of pure, brilliant light. And they can look into the very structure of space and time – the fabric of the Universe.

 

The Genuine Particle

11.30pm-12.00midnight, Wednesday 10 September

 

As CERN launches its new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, two Russian mathematicians have suggested that the unusually high beam energies may create what physicists jocularly call a wormhole, and that this wormhole could, theoretically, act as a sort of exit door to any time-traveller.

 

Which struck Steve Punt as very funny.

 

The Genuine Particle is set at CERN and is a fast-moving satire based around an easy-going British physicist who unwittingly unleashes a storm of frenzied covert international military activity as the US, Russia, Iran, HMG and (surprisingly) Belgium compete to gain control of any future time-traveller and their (presumed) weaponry.

 

This new comedy is written by Steve Punt and produced by David Tyler, who did a degree in Quantum Physics at Cambridge, and very nearly did a PhD at the DESY accelerator in Hamburg smashing quarks together before running away to join the comedy circus! Both the comedy and the physics will, therefore, be correct...

 

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Category: Radio 4
Date: 07.08.2008
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