Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Black hole/deity factory on track

The good news is: the first superconducting magnet has been lowered into the tunnel for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It was a big one, coming in at 15 meters long and 35 metric tons. Now there are only 1,231 identical magnets left to install. The magnets will be used to accelerate beams of protons zipping in opposite directions around a 27-kilometer tunnel, before they collide with an energy of about 14 trillion electron volts. (For comparison purposes, using E=mc2, the energy of a proton at rest is about one billion electron volts.)

The project is a few months behind schedule, which can cause problems for an undertaking of this magnitude:
Rossi said he was delighted to be able to proceed with the installation. The delay has left CERN with a massive backlog of equipment -- 800 huge magnets that had to be stored outside because there were no buildings large enough to warehouse them.
But the hope is to get back on track and start colliding particles on schedule in 2007.

The bad news comes in the form of the cringe-worthy sound bites that accompany the articles. One tech-blog posting is entitled CERN's Black Hole Maker LHC on Track, which is a tad misleading. There is a chance, if various optimistic speculations all come out just right, that we might be able to make black holes at the LHC; but it's an awfully small chance, and you don't want that to be your standard of success. The BBC refers to the Higgs boson as the God particle, a horrible quip for which we can all blame Leon Lederman. Unlikely as black holes may be, I'm quite certain we won't be making God at the LHC. Yet another article is entitled New physics tool 27 kilometres long, accompanied by an unmistakably phallic picture. Those crazy Canadians.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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