I have expressed some interest in High Energy Physics and various QC, GUT and SUSY theories on occasion. There are several Swamp denizens (including one doing double duty as commenter here and peanut gallery heckler there) who strongly believe that I have no right to be interested or business following theories and developments at that end of physics. I beg to differ.
Why, anyone interested in what science knows or doesn't know about the nature of nature and/or any part of nature (and what they're doing to plug holes in their knowledge) might find the theories and experiments of HEP of great interest and entertainment value. I figure that when I have no business or right to know what's going on in theoretical and experimental physics, they'll stop reporting what's going on in theoretical and experimental physics. A situation none of us should welcome.
Fortunately, the public still has a right to know some or most of what's going on (at least at the public funding level), and an entire scientific press corps out there attempting to give people information that they can understand if they try. Perhaps those with a bit of background physics will follow with less effort, but if the interest is there, effort is a fair investment. For those interested, here's where things are at as of August 12, 2008…
I am happy to report that the "cool down" phase of powering up the Large Hadron Collider at CERN should be done by now, as all eight sections of the beam tubes housed in a 27-kilometer torus reach their operating temperature of -271ºC (1.9º above absolute zero). Synchronization testing for the magnets was scheduled to begin last weekend…
…Tests will continue into September to ensure that the entire machine is ready to accelerate and collide beams at an energy of 5 TeV per beam, the target energy for 2008. Force majeure notwithstanding, the LHC will see its first circulating beam on 10 September at the injection energy of 450 GeV (.45 TeV).
If all goes well and stable circulating proton beams are established, they'll be brought into collision and the power will be increased to 5 TeV per beam before the end of the year. Though the LHC is not planned to operate in the winter (ski season and all), I imagine this first one will be non-stop. Scientists are hoping to eventually yield collision energies of ~14 TeV. The $8[+] billion dollar machine will provide many years' worth of sub-atomic fun for beam jockeys, megacomputers chock full of data for research teams all over the world to pour over for many more years, and – hopefully (or not) – some lovely new beasties to befriend. Including Wiggly Higgly, whom they're about 95% certain will pop in to visit on a fairly regular basis in the six detector-shrouded target zones.
In fact, the LHC offers some of the very same concerns in and out of the HEP community that Brookhaven's RHIC provoked awhile back – you remember, the possibility that a 'strangelet' might be created that would cause a universal phase shift, alter the false vacuum state and/or otherwise bring an immediate end to all things. Or just produce voracious micro/mini-holes that would sink to the core and consume the planet, a much lesser danger because it would only destroy this solar system. Luckily (or not), the wigs at Brookhaven decided the risk was worth it because… um… they have a machine that offers such cool risks. Why in the world would any human object to that?
Multiply the energies a few times and the concerns don't go away. We are reassured by the confident hypothesis that RHIC's 2005 "fireball" – theorized to have produced a double micro-hole – evaporated in mere femtoseconds even after sucking up a goodly amount of matter that simply disappeared from existence completely, never to be seen or heard from again. Hawking radiation thus being "proved," they say, because the earth's still here. So long as there's a sub-theory out there somewhere that accounts for something and assures everyone it's harmless, then by gum, it's all harmless. Don't Panic.
LHC makes no bones about it, they're going for black holes on purpose (also hoping for monopoles and strangelets). They're also dismissive of concerns, as is of course expected. They figure that if THEY can produce such odd beasties, then the earth is already chock full of 'em due to high energy cosmic ray bombardment. What they're more excited about is the opportunity to directly study "TeV-scale gravity" and the predicted extra dimensions of spacetime that come with. Establishing the nature of mass is not the first or most interesting goal of the project. If Higgs exists, he'll show.
Compared to that, the tiny risk to humanity, the planet and solar system, the galaxy and all other things that currently exist in spacetime is more than worth it. We already know The Answer – it's 42. What we're inventing now is the question!