Rebooting the Large Hadron Collider

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)--the world's largest, most ambitious atom smasher--hardly needs to be oversold. But even before construction ceased on the $10 billion, 17-mile-long, underground particle accelerator, some people had convinced themselves the device would end the world. Then the accidents and mechanical failures began one after another, fostering even wackier theories about time-traveling saboteurs.

Now scientists have announced that the repairs are completed, and on Monday, the first successful particle collisions were reported. As of yet, the world remains intact. Some bloggers reacted to the news by heaping derision on the fear-mongers, others rekindling hope for new advances in physics:

  • A Year to Warm Up  Robert Evans summarized the underlying aim of the LHC for Reuters:"Among enduring mysteries that researchers hope to unravel are the black holes in the universe, what anti-matter is and whether there is a Higgs Boson. The Boson is a theoretical particle thought to give matter its mass, enabling it to come together." However, he was also quick to point out that scientists behind the project were a patient bunch: "It may not be until 2011 that what is dubbed the 'Big Bang Machine' -- the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) -- straddling the Swiss-French border at the CERN research center will hit its top velocity, physicist Steve Myers added."
  • The Theory of Everything New Scientist contributing editor Anil Ananthaswamy offers his take on "what the LHC is really looking for." He challenges the the common perception that the ultimate goal of the project is to create a Higgs Boson particle, thus verifying the standard model of quantum physics "But then particle physics will be at a dead end, with no clues where to turn next." Instead, he says "If the theorists are right, before it ever finds the Higgs, the LHC will see the first outline of something far bigger: the grand, overarching theory known as supersymmetry. SUSY, as it is endearingly called, is a daring theory that doubles the number of particles needed to explain the world. And it could be just what particle physicists need to set them on the path to fresh enlightenment."
  • Be Not Afraid  Guardian contributor Euclides Montes used the occasion of the Hadron Collider restarting and its accompanying detractors to ponder the queasiness that has historically accompanied all scientific exploration. Beginning with the discovery of fire, he waxes philosophic about managing fear at the far reaches of scientific inquiry: "This deep-rooted fear of what lies just beyond us – both physically and intellectually – has characterised humanity's thirst for knowledge as well as its reaction to the advancements the quest has brought with it…So rather than being consumed by the fear, we should instead be using it to spur us on in our search for knowledge and I, for one, will be eagerly following the events on Friday. I hope LHC kicks off with a bang … a big bang."
  • The End of the Word Means The Beginning of A Whole New Verb Tense  Engadget's Ross Miller mocks the idea that LHC could destroy the world something, or that from the future sabotaged it to prevent such a catastrophe: "Whether or not we will have had total destruction as an unfortunate result of the device remains to be seen, but should the future find a way to either cease to exist or travel to the past in some time-bending paradox, we only hope linguists and physicists can work together and figure out the proper verb conjugations for this brave new world."
  • Think Bigger Daily Galaxy blogger Luke McKinney starts his post off with a swipe at the distractable mainstream media: "Some scientists are already looking beyond the Large Hadron Collider and onto the next generation of ultimega-atom-smasher.  That's because scientists actually plan things and can concentrate for longer than four seconds, unlike the mass media which reports on them." He goes on to explain that the experiments conducted at the LHC will actually pave the way for newer, more advanced accelerators, including a "muon collider" which would accelerate particles extremely small, extremely unstable "muon" particles. Of course, he admits that there are enormous hurdles before the technology is usable, and even then, there's always the matter of who foots the bill.

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