On and off for the LHC
Protons take trip around the accelerator
One short trip for a proton, one not-so-giant step for mankind. On September 10, scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, successfully steered the first beam of protons around the accelerator’s 27-kilometer track. But just nine days after the initial success, a faulty electrical connection led to a helium leak (SN Online: 9/23/08). The setback, combined with the LHC’s scheduled winter shutdown to save fuel costs, means that scientists won’t attempt the first proton collisions until summer 2009 (SN Online: 12/5/08)
The accelerator’s early hibernation, however, hasn’t dampened expectations for how it could drastically alter physicists’ understanding of the universe. When the accelerator runs at full capacity, its twin beams will each carry seven times more energy and have about 30 times the intensity of the best beam at any other accelerator. Moreover, the most energetic collisions will generate the temperatures and densities that existed a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Physicists hope that the LHC will lead them beyond the standard model of particle physics (SN: 7/19/08, p. 16) to signs of extra dimensions, new types of elementary particles and, perhaps, rapidly evaporating microscopic black holes that the accelerator may forge. Depending on what’s detected, physicists may find out if they understand the fundamental building blocks of nature, or if “everything that physicists have been talking about for 45 years is wrong,” says John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN.
Invisibility within sight Researchers take steps toward developing materials that can bend light in a way that renders objects invisible (SN: 8/30/08, p. 15).
Non-nanotubes Researchers discover a new type of carbon filament, colossal carbon tubes (shown below). The tubes are tens of thousands of times thicker than nanotubes (SN: 8/30/08, p. 9).
Maxwell’s cool demon An optical barrier that lets atoms cross in only one direction realizes a 19th century thought experiment that pushes thermodynamics to its limits (SN: 7/19/08, p. 7).
Proton’s cousin Physicists discover omega-b-minus, a particle made of two strange quarks and a bottom quark (SN: 9/27/08, p. 9).
Building ‘the Matrix’ Physicists build the first rudimentary machine that simulates quantum phenomena using quantum physics. The vacuum chamber (shown) traps ions for laser manipulation (SN: 8/30/08, p. 5).
Resistance with a twist Researchers show that twisting fluctuations among electrons in a particular material could explain the material’s superconductivity (SN: 12/20/08, p. 13).
Phlegmatic molecules Time-lapse snapshots of certain molecules show that they switch between different shapes less often than theory predicted (SN: 6/7/08, p. 7).
Einstein’s invisible hand Controversial data suggest that effects from Einstein’s theory of relativity might make element 114 behave like a noble gas rather than a metal (SN: 4/12/08, p. 230).