Due to a fault, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Geneva is out of action for some months. The problem was a magnet quench, or more precisely the magnet quench was a result of some deeper underlying problem. A small energy perturbation can cause a tiny region in the field coils to stop superconducting, then the heat generated from ohmic losses due to the very large currents flowing causes massive local heating which, like an avalanche effect, very quickly heats the whole field coil out of the superconducting state. This almost instantly boils off hundreds of kilogrammes of liquid helium. These things occasionally happen with large superconducting magnets, for example in MRI scanners used in hospitals, and they are both expensive in the cost of replacing the helium, and in the downtime associated with getting things up and running again.
So much for this expensive, but fairly trivial and routine setback. I’m much more concerned about the hype generated by physicists to do with the LHC. Obviously, a lot of exaggeration has been used to secure the tremendous funding for this in the first place – possibly as much as 10 billion US dollars equivalent by the time this monster starts giving interesting results. One wonders whether the BBC are simply relaying CERN press releases, or whether they are being spiced up by an over-zealous science editor.
It goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. From their BBC News website they make the following statement about the collisions experiments by the LHC:
Scientists hope it will shed light on fundamental questions in physics.
That’s absolutely fine. Spot on. That’s a statement of fact we can all sign off on. However, the statement
The LHC is built to smash protons together at huge speeds, recreating conditions moments after the Big Bang
is only partially acceptable. Yes, it is built to smash protons together at huge speeds (statement of fact). But No, it cannot be stated as a fact that it will recreate conditions moments after the Big Bang – that’s a statement of belief. Do you see the problem? The ‘Big Bang’ is merely one theory about something that happened a very long time ago. As such, the coming into being of the universe is itself one of the fundamental questions in physics. It is begging the question to state that the LHC will re-create conditions that persisted after the Big Bang when the very existence of a Big Bang is an unproven theory. Every age has its pet theory about origins, and this one will probably look very silly in a hundred years time. Continue reading ‘Large Hadron Collider or Loada Hypothetical Codswallop?’