CERN takes to reddit to discuss new energy frontier

Update 29 May 2015

Next week, data taking at the record-breaking energy of 13 teraelectronvolts (TeV) is set to start at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Researchers at CERN took to the online forum reddit yesterday to answer questions from the public about what to expect from LHC physics at this new energy frontier. The discussion covered topics ranging from the technical aspects of the LHC and LHC@Home to data analysis and the birth of the World Wide Web.

Here are some of the highlights:

FantastiqueDutchie asked:

Explain to me like I am five: why are you doing this and what makes it important? What could we/you do with this data in the future?

Federico Ronchetti of INFN Frascati and the ALICE experiment replied:

I can give you an example. In 1800 the study of electricity and magnetism were considered an highly theoretical study with no practical uses. At most was used for circus shows. Once understood by means of theory and experiments it shaped the modern world. Try to think how could you live without electricity. The research we are carrying out at CERN may seem far from everyday life today however will bring forward our knowledge of the natural phenomena and it has already practical spin offs. For instance accelerator technology is used for inoperable cancer surgery and as you may know the software protocol that powers the web was invented at CERN.

Claire Lee of the ATLAS experiment also replied:

Hahaha ok - really 5 or like a general member of the public 5? (I have a 5 year old)

Why are we doing this? Well, mainly because we want to! Scientist are... sort of like kids, actually. Curious about the world (and occasionally smashing things together to see how they work). We want to understand our universe, and why it looks and acts the way it does. In particle physics we think of the universe as being made up of tiny little "building blocks" - legos, if you like. There are different types of blocks, too - some that we use to make up things, and others that are used to join the pieces together. These are the matter particles (we call them "fermions") and the force particles ("bosons"). We can't say we really understand our universe until we know why all these different pieces look exactly the way they do, and act exactly the way we do. And we really really want to understand these things!

Why is it important & what could we do? These are trickier questions :) There's the obviously vague answer - because knowing more about our universe will lead us to future breakthroughs and discoveries. But we can't really say what! But here are some short examples of what has happened in the past:

  • When Einstein developed his theory of General Relativity, he just wanted to explain the way gravity worked. Now, your GPS locator in your smartphone uses these exact GR equations to remain accurate.
  • Most particle accelerators are actually found in hospitals, in MRI machines, helping with diagnostic medicine.
  • The web was developed right here at CERN to help scientists transmit important pieces of information to each other and aid in data analysis. Now, hello! :)
  • The Grid, which is a network of high performance computers we use to analyse the vast amounts of data we get from our experiments, is also used in other fields

Claire even parodied a song from Disney's Frozen to explain the Standard Model of particle physics.

Check out the full discussion here.


Update from 27 May 2015

Don't miss CERN's "Ask Me Anything" session on the online forum reddit, tomorrow from 4pm CEST. Representatives from the LHC experiments ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb, as well as a CERN theorist and members of the LHC Operations team will be available live on the site’s /r/IAmA sub-forum, answering the community’s questions in real time in written form.

Last week, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) broke the world record for the highest-energy human-made collisions in a particle accelerator. CERN is one step closer to LHC Season 2, with collisions for physics data at 13 teraelectronvolts (TeV) due to start in June.

Ask the researchers your questions about what's in store for the LHC and its experiments at this new energy frontier.

The team of participants includes:

  • ALICE Run coordinator Federico Ronchetti
  • ATLAS collaboration Deputy spokesperson Beate Heinemann
  • CMS Physics coordinator Luca Malgeri
  • LHCb Physicist Adam Morris
  • LHC Engineer-in-charge Reyes Alemany Fernandez
  • CERN Theorist Andreas Weiler

They will be joined by Bartosz Przemyslaw Bielawski of CERN Beams Department; Claire Lee and Steve Goldfarb from the ATLAS Experiment; Andres G. Delannoy, André David and Achintya Rao from the CMS experiment and Kate Kahle from the CERN Communication group.

Got a question? Ask these researchers anything, tomorrow at 4pm CEST. The link will go live here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/37ldev/we_just_broke_a_world_record_at_the_large_hadron/

Missed the live discussion? No worries! Catch up here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/37ldev/we_just_broke_a_world_record_at_the_large_hadron/