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Big Bang On The Web (MSNBC)

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008 6:30 PM by Alan Boyle

Peter McCready / Special to
Click for high-def slide show:
360-degree HD View photos let
you zoom through the Large
Hadron Collider.

The world’s biggest atom-smasher is a smash hit on the Web: It’s only been one day since the Large Hadron Collider’s startup, but the device has already generated an explosion of cool stuff online, including black humor about black holes.

We’re offering a selection of photographer Peter McCready’s 360-degree, zoomable panoramas of the collider’s hot spots as part of our special report on the $10 billion project – but if the HD View plug-in doesn’t work out, you can still take a Flash-based tour of the LHC on McCready’s own Web site.

McCready, who is a system administrator for Queen’s University in Belfast in Northern Ireland, has been taking 360-degree panoramas for years at the European Space Agency and other high-tech locales. It’s all part of his personal campaign to add some extra gee-whiz to the genre.

“It seemed to be more used for the leisure-hotel industry, and I always thought there should be more to it than that,” he told me.

Under the aegis of the World Wide Panorama project, McCready went to Geneva in 2005 and was permitted to take his first set of all-around pictures of the ATLAS experiment. Since then, he has documented all the main experiments with the enthusiastic support of the LHC’s science teams. He just finished up his most recent visit, and the latest set of 10 panoramas should be available on his Web site in four to six weeks.

“It was a massive privilege to visit parts of the experiment that members of the public never get to see,” McCready said.

Here are some more big bangs on the Web (and on TV):

  • British physics student Tim Head takes a different approach to chronicling the collider project. Here’s his time-lapse video that shows the assembly of the ATLAS detector from the ground up, accompanied by the music of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Five years of work are condensed into five minutes of must-see Web TV.
  • In case you missed seeing Wednesday’s startup in real time (around 4 a.m. ET), here’s a video replay, as well as an extra link to the Large Hadron Rap video that made such a splash last week. You’ll also find ample views of the first hits recorded by the LHC’s Compact Muon Detector and the ATLAS detector.
  • Are you still trying to understand what the Large Hadron Collider is all about? Check out the online tutorials from Particle Detectives and the Particle Adventure.  Britain’s Science and Technology Facilities Council has a 15-part video series that covers the basics of particle physics as well as the role that the LHC will play. The BBC offers a guide to the machine that rivals our own.
  • So what happens to all the terabytes of data that the LHC will generate? This Flash interactive from CERN’s Grid Cafe traces the process, step by step. A decade from now, the Grid may be as big a part of everyday life as the Web is today.
  • The History Channel brought “The Next Big Bang” to cable television this week, and in case you missed it, the show will be rebroadcast next week. Another documentary about the subatomic race, “The Atom Smashers,” will air in November on PBS.
  • Newsweek provides some expert commentary on the LHC from Nobel-winning physicist Leon Lederman, author of “The God Particle,” and from a flock of physicists including Stephen Hawking.
  • Speaking of Hawking, reports that the world-famous British scientist bet $100 that the Higgs boson would not be found at the LHC has sparked some sharp words this week from Peter Higgs, the physicist after whom the long-predicted but never-detected particle was named. That’s not surprising: Hawking has been trash-talking the Higgs boson for more than a decade. But it did give The Register an excuse for working the phrase “Boffinry Bitchslap Brouhaha” into its headline. Priceless …
  • And about those black holes: My colleague over at the Clicked blog, Will Femia, is already linking to tongue-in-cheek Web sites that keep you up to date on the LHC’s black-hole status. Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait puts it another way. The LHC hasn’t gotten to the point of starting collisions, but despite what the doomsayers say, all the evidence shows that the world won’t be sucked into a collider black hole. We’ll have more about that in Friday’s concluding installment of the “Big Bang Machine” series.

Wednesday’s startup was “just the beginning of the story,” said Eric Prebys, the head of the USLHC accelerator research program at Fermilab in Illinois.

Since then, scientists have been shooting proton beams around the collider’s 17-mile-round (27-mile-round) ring hundreds of times, even though today is an official holiday in Geneva. From now on, testing will continue seven days a week, night and day, Prebys told me.

He said those tests will fine-tune the beams going in opposite directions and more than double their energies from the startup level of 450 billion electron volts to around 1 trillion electron volts – which is about the maximum energy achievable by Fermilab’s Tevatron, the world’s current record-holding atom-smasher.

Within a few weeks, the two beams will be brought into collision. That milestone may come in time for the next big celebration on CERN’s schedule: an Oct. 21 gala, attended by heads of state, that will mark the LHC’s formal inauguration.

For updates about the home team, keep tabs on the USLHC blogs and the Symmetry Breaking blog. And for a teen perspective on the LHC’s “First Beam” events as seen from Fermilab, check out the QuarkNet blog and this YouTube video.

Source: MSNBC Science & Technology

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