The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva Switzerland successfully performed a diagnostic today and rotated a proton beam around the ring in each direction (clockwise and counterclockwise). This is a diagnostic step before performing actual collisions at full energy in the coming weeks and months. With a circumference of 17 miles, the LHC is currently the largest particle collider in the world and aims to test the limits of the Standard Model and beyond. Amongst other things, experiments at the LHC will search for the elusive Higgs Boson (a field that gives mass to all the elementary particles), supersymmetric particles (they provide a natural mechanism to help unify all the forces), extra dimensions (predicted to exist in in string, brane, and M-theory), and continue to study the quark gluon plasma (a new state of matter; this continues work started at the CERN SPS and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider). If you find yourself skeptical about a multi-billion dollar project to search for such esoteric things, the task of rapidly sorting 27 TB per day (15 PB per year!) and finding a viable means of analyzing it is one of the primary technical solutions coming from the LHC that will directly revolutionize our society in coming years. For non-physicists, that benefit alone will be worth the investment.
A lawsuit was recently mounted to stop the machine for fears the large energy density produced in the collisions would create voracious mini-black holes that would destroy the earth. Other absurd doomsday scenarios were also posed. However, there is no danger. As I wrote one concerned student recently, there are many dangerous things in the world, but a doomsday scenario at a particle collider is not one of them. This is an old, alarmist tactic perpetuated by fringe thinkers and well-meaning, but ignorant, citizens alike. I wrote an article entitled Doomsday Fears at RHIC for the Skeptical Inquirer about the same problem back in 2000 when the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) was coming online. The article was recently cited under the “best opinion” section in the strange little article Science of the Apocalypse in the Atlantic.com (Atlantic Monthly online), which briefly describes the recent LHC lawsuit. A more technical write-up on LHC “doomsday scenarios” can be found here. The LHC official safety statement can be found here. Going back to the old days at BNL, their official safety statement can be found here.
These are exciting times in physics and hopefully old questions will be answered while raising new challenges.