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LHC smashes both particles and records

March 30, 2010

Earlier this morning the Large Hadron Collider successfully smashed two proton beams together at 3 times the previous record speed. Unfortunately, it will probably be at least a few months before we know any of the results of the collisions. That’s because there’s so much data produced from just one collision that it takes even the world’s fastest supercomputers a considerable amount of time to do all the number-crunching. In the meantime, they’ll probably be doing even more collisions at even higher velocities. Amazingly, even though they’re shattering all the records for collision velocity, this thing is still only in the testing phase. It could be at least another year before they’re smashing particles at the machine’s full potential. I especially enjoy the analogy made by Steve Myers of CERN that aligning the beams is akin to “firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way.” Good analogies really put things into perspective. This device is easily the most significant piece of technology mankind has ever built. More can be found at Discovery News. I was also elated to see that this story made headlines on CNN.com this morning.

In somewhat related news, particle collisions (though much less powerful) might be the cause of Toyota’s recent accelerator problems. The current thinking is that cosmic rays may be responsible for glitches in the processing chips used by Toyota in their cars’ computers, and that those glitches are causing the faulty accelerator problem. It sounds rather ridiculous, but it’s actually happened before in other sensitive electronics. The earth’s upper atmosphere is constantly bombarded with radiation from not only our own sun, but also high-energy gamma rays from distant supernovae. The ozone layer absorbs almost all of this deadly radiation, but the impacts result in a cascade of lower-energy particles that do make it to the surface. These are mostly harmless, but when they impact sensitive microprocessors, they can wreak havoc. Since Toyota has been a pioneer into the realm of increasingly computerized vehicles, that puts them at higher risk for these types of problems. (Via Live Science)

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