New Project - The Dawn of a New Era: Hunting the Higgs

>> Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Dawn of a New Era

These are the first things I looked at when I awoke this morning.

First release images of 7TeV collisions in the CMS detector, March 30,2010

Apologies folks, but I can't resist the tendency to the poetic. It's an irresistible force. Yes, they look like hieroglyphs, or something truly alien, or perhaps just colorful scribbles, and it is certain the naysayers and luddites will proffer a plethora of snarky remarks. And in all honesty, I could tell you very little about what the traces show - but for one thing.

These are a record of something utterly new, heretofore unknown, and never before seen in the entire history of what we collectively call ourselves - the human race.

We are truly at the dawn of a new era. Not just for physics, but perhaps for everything we understand.

How can one make such a bold, perhaps foolhardy statement?

Keep in mind a passel of physicists with tons of graphite in a field house at the University of Chicago some 60-odd years ago. Or even earlier in the 1850's, when an English tinkerer moved a magnet over some coiled wire. Those are just a couple of things that changed the world forever - and made our world what it is.

Now we - humanity - are looking deep into the pieces of the bits of shards of atoms and beyond into who-knows-where. Just like Fermi at Pile 1 and Faraday in his study, and all the rest who knew not what they were looking at, except that what they were looking at was new.

So the statement is not so bold, or foolhardy. It is in fact, certainty.

UCSD-TV will be chronicling the advent of this journey as we provide a unique perspective through the exploits of UCSD Professor of Physics Vivek Sharma and his graduate student, Matt LeBourgeois. Here is a preview of material we recorded just days before the start of the journey.

More will be coming as the collisions continue and the journey proceeds.

You can follow along with near real-time views of LHC and CMS status, as well as see collision images here. You can even put it on your, as my daughter is apt to remind me, the "inner" (or some might say not-so-inner) nerd in me did...

Another interesting blog to glimpse a different perspective of the journey is here, provided by CMS e-commentators Darin Acosta, Dave Barney and Lindsey Gray. A lot of it may as well be runes or Sanskrit to most of us - we'll work on translating as much of it as we can as this project evolves, but I'm fascinated by it because it is a unique chronicle of what is a wholly new, and certain to be, fantastic journey.


New Project - Hunting the Higgs

>> Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 29, 2010. Within a few hours, while you sleep soundly, the most energetic particle collisions ever produced by humans will occur half-way around the world. Scheduled for the morning of March 30,2010, Geneva time, two beams of protons each at an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts will be directed to slam head on into each other at about 99.99999999 percent of the speed of light. And Science on UCSDTV is there, following along with UCSD Professor of Physics Vivek Sharma and one of his graduate students, Matt LeBourgeois. While Vivek is half-way around the world at CERN, he is only one of 24 UCSD physicists, including Frank Weurthwein, who are working on the project.

Vivek is the Director of Higgs Research for the CMS detector on the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider. That means he coordinates a huge international team of the world's top physicists, researchers and technicians to conduct a search for the only fundamental particle in the standard model of particle physics that has not yet been detected. It is often referred to as 'the god particle'. Why? It is postulated that this 'god particle' - less poetically the Higgs Boson, is the particle that confers the property of mass to everything - from fundamental particles like quarks on up to you and me, and, well, everything. It also has all sorts of other implications we'll get into as this project evolves.

So, what is the CMS you ask? Steel yourself for an anagram-a-palooza rivaled only by the likes of NASA. The CMS is The Compact Muon Solenoid. That will be explained in later posts - but essentially it is a 100 million channel "camera" that can output "pictures" or record events on the order of fractions of microseconds, a bit faster than your digital snippy-snap, as innumerable fundamental particles spray off of innumerable proton collisions occurring each fraction of a fraction of a second.

Here's a sneak preview of some early footage for the project we recorded using remote connectivity with VoIP, iPhones, laptops and home video cameras.

You'll never see the CMS Center this quiet after March 30,2010

And even more cool, you can follow the status of the CMS detector, the LHC, and see photos of the CMS, here. And when they have the data - images of the most energetic particle collisions ever created.

Here's a little bit of information on what you might see on one of the pages. I'm still working on getting it figured out, and it's kind of fun to explore. We'll take it slowly so we don't get paralyzed by alien information overload. On the LHC status page you'll sometimes see three values across the top: Energy, I(B1) in blue and I(B2) in red. Energy is how energetic each beam is. And I is intensity of each beam. So when you see 3500GeV for energy, that's 3.5 Trillion Electron Volts - the most energetic beams ever created. When the two 3.5TeV beams collide, that's 7TeV put into that collision, enough to blast protons and hopefully top quarks apart into their many varied constituent fundamental particles - and as is hoped and envisioned, we'll see the telltale signature of the Higgs Boson.

Now don't despair if all this rarefied physics is confusing. It is, but only because it's new. Hey, I'm right along with you on this. If you don't know what the words LHC, Higgs or CERN mean, stay with UCSD Science blog and we'll be working to get you up to speed on what could, and should, prove to be a watershed in our understanding of well, in a way....everything. Pretty soon this will all be as familiar as air and water.


Programs to Watch: TeacherTECH and Building it Better

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TeacherTECH: Earthquake Teaching Tools

The next program in our new series TeacherTECH, from the San Diego Supercomputer Center airs Wednesday March 24 and features the irrepressible Debi Kilb, Science Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Visualization Center. Debi's specialties are the underlying physics of earthquakes, and getting other people really enthused about it. She's going to show you many readily accessible sources on the internet where you can find a wide range of information on seismic activity, both in the past and as it happens. And don't miss physics guru Phil Blanco's TeacherTECH presentation on Newton's Laws and Gravity on March 31. Visit UCSDTV's TeacherTECH page for other programs in the series, and more resources and information from the presenters.

Building It Better

In keeping with the theme of seismicity, Debi's TeacherTECH presentation is followed by Building It Better, a chronicle of the most massive outdoor real-time seismic test ever conducted. You'll get an inside view of the western hemisphere's largest shake-table at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center. The shake table is the only of its kind in North America, and you'll see the amazing ingenuity and technology that is required to conduct a test of this scale.


Latest Project: Seismic Testing for a Renewable Future

>> Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We’ve embarked on a new program that chronicles the seismic testing of a wind turbine conducted at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center – home of the western hemisphere’s largest outdoor shake table. California will be expanding the use of wind generation, and as we all know, California is one of the most seismically active regions in the nation. It is the first time a turbine has been tested in this manner and will provide a wealth of information for design and deployment of wind turbines for our renewable future. We caught the turbine being subjected to forces two-and-a-half times greater than the Northridge earthquake, and we’ll be getting an inside look at a working wind farm and how this research will help advance wind power – keep watching and you’ll see the results.