Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The LHC: Illuminating the High-Energy Frontier

With CERN's Large Hardon Collider (LHC) operations looming in the horizon, many articles have been written about it, be it in terms of what it is, what it can do, and what is expected of it. This article is actually one of the better and clearer description of what is expected of the LHC.

The principal goal of the experimental programme at the LHC is to make the first direct exploration of a completely new region of energies and distances, to the tera-electron-volt scale and beyond. The main objectives include the search for the Higgs boson and whatever new physics may accompany it, such as supersymmetry or extra dimensions, and also – perhaps above all – to find something that the theorists have not predicted.

So, to all those quacks who keep thinking that physicists only want to hold on to established principles, TAKE THAT!

It is safe to say that many centers throughout the world that has any kind of involvement with the LHC are now in the "preparation" mode ready to start digesting all the gazillion of data that will spew out of those detectors. While actual serious data-taking won't occur anytime soon, the setting-up of the infrastructure (hiring graduate students/postdoc/staff, getting enough computing power, exploring possible theoretical scenarios, etc.) have been going on for the past few years in anticipation of the LHC operation. In other words, many high energy physicists are almost as giddy as children the night before Christmas!

Let's just hope Santa doesn't bring only lumps of coal the next morning!



Kent said...

While looking for PhD options, I stumbled upon quite a few projects linked with the LHC but I decided that it might not be the best project to do a thesis on with the huge collaboration and the many delays. What do you think Zz?


ZapperZ said...


You didn't elaborate on which area of high energy physics you are thinking of going into. If you are pursuing an experimental area, then yes, by its very nature, high energy physics experiments will involve a large collaboration. If this is something you do not want, then this area of study is certainly not something you should go into.

Still, with the LHC looming, many groups are shoring up their work force, and this includes more money for RA'ship. So if you can stand it, there might be more opportunities and this could be one of the best times to get into this field.

Good luck!


Kent Leung said...


I did my Masters thesis on measuring a radioactive half-life and I'm definitely an experimentalist (See Ref.[1] if you're interested in the field).

The LHC projects that I read about seemed to be a mixture of both theoretical & experimental. For instance, one involved simulating the signature in the detectors if a "mini black-hole" was to be created. These results is then used to set the hardware to record and analyze such events.

As you mentioned, they do have a lot of money going into this field at the moment. I also agree with some of the points you brought up in your "My Physics Journey" post (Nov. 2006) about large collaborations in particle physics. One more thing that put me off about doing a Ph.D working with the LHC is that who knows what other unforeseeable delays, like the recent problems with the magnets, might delay the accelerator going on-line? It will be difficult for a Ph.D, with deadlines to meet, to deal with such delays.

I am currently looking at research with Ultra Cold Neutron groups in Germany that perform their experiments at the ILL reactor in Grenoble, France. They perform measures of the fundamental parameters of the weak interaction.


[1] Hardy, J.C. & Towner, I.S. New Limits on Fundamental Weak-Interaction Parameters from Superallowed beta Decay Physical Review Letters, APS, 2005, 94, 092502