Posts Tagged physics
I added some features to Haiku Detector so that it will find haiku made of more than one sentence, though I haven’t released the new version yet, since I’d like to release it on the Mac App store (even though it will probably still be free, at least at first) to see how that works, and to do that I’ll need an icon first. If you know anyone who can make Mac icons at a reasonable price, let me know. Meanwhile, New Scientist has released a new ‘collection‘ called The Unknown Universe, so why not mine it for haiku? The topics are ‘The early universe’, ‘The nature of reality’ (again), ‘The fabric of the cosmos’, ‘Dark materials’, ‘Black holes’, ‘Time’ (again) and ‘New directions’.
Let’s start at the very beginning, the early universe:
Can we really be
sure now that the universe
had a beginning?
At first, that seems like a terrible place to break the sentence to start a new line. But what if we pretend, until we get to the next line, that ‘Can we really be?’ is the whole question? Because that’s the real reason people wonder about the universe.
Now, here’s a multi-sentence one, which conveniently has a full sentence as the first line:
“We’re back to square one.”
Tegmark agrees: “Inflation
has destroyed itself.”
Deep. But what is this inflation thing, anyway?
Well, for one thing, it’s
not clear what actually
does the inflating.
Only then will we
truly know what kind of a
bang the big bang was.
“I am not convinced
the cyclic model is that
But I think this is my favourite. There’s a monster at the end of this universe, and it’s making crosswords.
Cosmic monsters that
have survived into our times
also pose puzzles.
Now for the nature of reality:
“It pulls the rug out
from under us to prove a
theory right or wrong.”
Maybe we just need to look around us.
There is also down,
and, for that matter, left, right,
forwards and backwards.
Have we figured out what we’re looking for yet?
What it is, though, we
do not have the words or the
concepts to express.
Maybe E. L. James can help us figure it out:
allows us to see the shades
of grey in between.”
These ones are about the fabric of the cosmos:
“If you go by what
we observe, we don’t live in
space-time,” Smolin says.
We battle against
them each time we labour up
a hill or staircase.
“But where did the weak
primordial fields that seed the
dynamo come from?”
The same force that keeps
our feet on the ground also
shapes the universe.
I like this one for the contrast between the first and last lines:
loss paradox dissolves. Big
questions still remain.
Here are some of the ‘dark materials‘ haiku, about dark matter and dark energy:
The discovery of
dark matter would be the find
of the century.
I love how this contrasts ‘discovery of’ with ‘find of’; I didn’t notice that in prose form.
We still don’t know what
it is. It is everywhere
and we can’t see it.
That opens the door
to a dazzling array of
This chase through space will
be thrilling, but the quarry
may still elude us.
“It seems like a long
shot,” he says. But others are
being won over.
“But we don’t see a
fifth force within the solar
system,” says Burrage.
Though maybe the array of possibilities isn’t so dazzling after all:
It is limited
to perhaps three things. First, dark
There are only two haiku about black holes, but one of them sounds like an idea Dan Brown might write about, probably without first reading New Scientist:
A BOMB made out of
a black hole is a rather
And the other sounds like it belongs on an episode of Doctor Who:
One of them will have
to blink if this paradox
is to be undone.
There are no more haiku on time, but luckily there were some in the last collection. I love this one about new directions, though:
Put that to many
physicists, and you will get
a grumpy response.
Ah, those physicists, always hopeful:
things have usually led
somewhere,” says Davies.
They even have a solution to that ‘we still don’t know what it is’ problem from earlier:
“We don’t know what it
is so we have to give it
a name, a symbol.”
After that, it gets
a lot more speculative,
but here’s the best guess.
But they’re not that confident about it:
There are also good
reasons to think it is an
Paths to a theory
of everything will become
even more winding.
For instance, it could
decrease with time, or even
Infinity makes things even more difficult:
is a concept that defies
But it is at the
big bang that infinity
wreaks the most havoc.
The first line of the first infinity one reminds me of a CERN friend’s recipe for gravity: you just put ‘it’ in gravy.
A while ago I made a somewhat whimsical but as accurate as I could manage too-much-infographic comparing many aspects of the International Space Station with the Large Hadron Collider, and jokingly asking which would win in a fight. I’ve given that a bit of an update and put an annotated text version below for those whose pdf readers don’t show annotations. More importantly, since then, I’ve seen the crew of the STS-134 mission to the space station give a talk at CERN, and wanted to ask them which was more awesome, but was in one of the few spots without a microphone, and I don’t speak as loudly as my friend Hugo, who asked a question from right next to me, does. But at a later talk at CERN, I did ask NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William H. Gerstenmaier. This was his response, which you can find at around 50:45 in the video:
Oh, man. This is a tough question; I don’t know. They’re both unique in their own way, right? Both pretty special research facilities, right? And I think that, again we often talk about, you know, human versus robotic, right, it’s really human all the time, right? Even in a robotic space, the data’s analyzed by a human somewhere, and so, I think again it’s that spirit of exploration that we’re all pushing on. We all want to understand something new, discover something that nobody’s seen before, so at CERN, damn sure, that spirit drives you every day, you’re looking for new things. I see it in your papers: what is this theory? Are we changing physics? It’s the same thing we’re doing. How can I look at a physical phenomenon that occurs in one gravity, remove the one gravity term, and now get a totally different perspective on that same physical phenomenon, that then allows me to advance in a different area. So I think it’s that same passion that drives people. But I don’t know which one’s best.
So there you go. I’ve added this comment to the notes in the TMIGraphic, and also updated data relating to the ISS’s orbit and a few other things, and added a ‘Getting to Orbit’ section, but the best thing is the update to that ‘when to see it’ bubble on the LHC. You can see it at the CERN open days at the end of September. Two full days. The LHC is shut down for upgrades at the moment, so I understand this will be another chance to actually go underground and see it, which probably won’t be possible for a while once it starts running again. And even if you don’t see the LHC or its detectors (there are only so many people that you can get up and down in a lift in two days; 23 000 people out of 53 000 visitors visited the tunnels in one day last time), there are many other things you can see at the open day. I know this because I was at the last one. Maybe I should look through whatever videos I took that day and see if I can make an interesting montage. I know I have footage from various other tours which I should put online.
The pdf version of the ISS vs. LHC comparison has a lot of links and extra notes in the margins detailing where I got the figures from, how I chose the sources, how I found myself gingerly plugging values into a relativistic equation at a demoparty at 1:30a.m, and so on. But I suspect not everyone who looked at the original downloaded the pdf, and those who did might not have been using pdf readers that showed the notes well. Besides that, the infographic is sort of messy (that’s why I call it a too-much-infographic), although I think it does add something to the raw text. So I’ll reproduce all of the text and notes in table format below, show a far-too-small preview of the TMIGraphic version, and encourage you to download the pdf if you like circles and crisscrossing dashed lines and things that can be read while offline.
Sorry if the line spacing is inconsistent in this table; WordPress changes the style for the second and later paragraphs in each cell no matter how I create the paragraph breaks, and it tends to delete newlines, paragraph and break tags if I ever open the page in the visual editor, so the best I can do is put blank lines before the first paragraph in each cell to give that the same style, and then try not to accidentally open the post in the visual editor.
Solar array: 73m
Cold mass diameter: 0.57m
Vacuum vessel diameter: 0.91m
See the ‘Orbit’ section for the size of the entire LHC.
|Mass||419 455kg (but it depends what’s up there)||37 600 000kg
(detector mass, not counting
|The ISS mass doesn’t include the contents of the station or any spacecraft docked to it. You’ll find different masses around the place depending on what they take into account.The LHC mass is much more than that (calculated from CERN FAQ – LHC the guide: “4700 tonnes of material in each of the eight sectors”.) The 1232 35-tonne dipole magnets alone weigh 43120 tonnes, and there are another 8468 smaller magnets, and many other things. But only 30 tonnes of each of those dipoles is cooled (by 120 tonnes of liquid helium and 10 080 tonnes of liquid nitrogen) As my friend Rob Lambert (who works on LHCb) says: It's difficult to define the mass of "the LHC", because you'd probably want to weigh the concrete in the tunnel walls […] I think the "cold mass" is the best comparison to make, since that is sort of like the LHC payload. The rest is sort of comparable to the shuttles/boosters used to get the materiel up to the space station, which weighs a lot more than the station itself, of course.|
368 730 000N
(just the cold stuff, ignoring altitude)
at least 3 614 899N
(using the stated mass at 422km altitude, the point of the ISS’s current orbit where it weighs the least)
For the LHC, this is just a simple matter of multiplying the mass above with standard gravity. The exact gravity where the LHC is wouldn’t be exactly that, due to the altitude, the distance below the surface, the mountains, the tides (which the LHC itself is sensitive can detect) and all sorts of other things that I don’t know how to calculate.As for the ISS, you might think the station is weightless, but it’s not; it’s in orbit. There’s still gravity up there, just a bit weaker than on the ground (where the station would weigh about 4 109 084N.) The station’s weight keeps it falling toward the Earth all the time. It’s just moving along fast enough that the Earth curves away beneath it, so it doesn’t get any closer to the ground. Things on the station seem weightless because they’re in free fall.Here’s a website which gives the formulas to calculate the force of gravity between two objects, and will calculate it for you. I used 5.97219e21 metric tons for the weight of the Earth, 419455kg for the weight of the station, and 6800km for the distance between them (the radius of the Earth, plus 422km.) I probably shouldn’t give the result that many significant figures.
760Torr (1 atm)
10-10 — 5×10-8 Torr
|For the ISS, this is actually the pressure at 500km; the closest altitude I could find authoritative-enough figures for. Outside the station, closer to Earth’s atmosphere, the value should be toward the high end of this range.I had a lot of trouble finding an answer to this seemingly-simple question; I found figures which varied by a factor of a billion. In fact it only varies by a factor of 20 depending on the space weather.|
Lead collision point: 5.5 trillion °C
|When I first did this comparison, it was possible to check the inside temperature of the space station in real time here at the bottom right, but the temperature doesn’t show for me any more.The inside temperature of the LHC is the temperature of the cold mass of the magnets, given here.The ‘Outside’ temperature is actually the temperature of the LHCb cavern when the detector is turned off. I assume the LHC tunnel should be about the same temperature. 5.5 trillion degrees is an estimate from this Nature blog post. This CERN page says: When two beams of lead ions collide, they will generate temperatures more than 100 000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated within a minuscule space.|
from solar arrays
from French and Swiss grid (including the base load for the whole site)
|Of the LHC total, LHC cryogenics uses 27.5 MW and the LHC experiments use 22 MW. It’s hard to say how much of the rest goes toward LHC-related computing, lighting, coffee-brewing etc, and how much goes to the many other experiments and activities at CERN.|
|Orbit and Altitude|
|Altitude||408km — 422km
(on 2 June 2013. Has been as low as 331.5km)
|175m — 50m below ground
about 450m—380m above sea level
|Here is a nice graph of the ISS’s altitude from launch to 2009. Here’s the source for the LHC depth figures, and an explanation of why it was built underground. I estimated the altitude above sea level going by altitudes in Google Earth at roughly the points where the LHC is deepest and shallowest. I need to find better figures for this.|
|Orbit Diameter||13 558—13 586km
(on 2 June 2013)
|8485m||I used the mean Earth radius of 6371km to calculate the orbit diameter of the ISS, . I guess I should have calculated the diameter at the actual angle the ISS orbits at, but as a maths major I don’t trust my arithmetic.|
|Orbital Speed||7 666.2m/s
(on 2 June 2012)
protons at 7TeV: 299 792 455m/s
(3m/s slower than the speed of light) lead ions at 2.76 TeV per nucleon: 299 792 441m/s
(17m/s slower than the speed of light)
|You can check the ISS orbital speed in real time. Protons haven’t circulated in the LHC at 7TeV yet, but they will. I got the 2.76TeV figure from the LHC FAQ document (which is very comprehensive and interesting, by the way. I recommend it.) A nucleon is just a proton or neutron. But I couldn’t find the actual speed, so I calculated it using this formula at 1:30a.m. I’m a maths major, so I can’t guarantee its correctness. Wolfram Alpha can calculate this by itself if you ask it ‘relativistic speed of 2.76 TeV proton’ but the answer is so near to the speed of light that it rounds it off to 1c.|
|Orbital Period||~92 minutes||
88.928µs (11245 orbits per second)
either protons or lead ions at full energy
|The ISS data used to be on the real-time tracking page listed previously, and the LHC figures were here. I’m going to need to find new sources for those.|
|Getting to Orbit||Zarya and Zvezda modules launched by Proton rockets Pirs and Poisk launched by Soyuz-U rockets Everything else launched by Space Shuttle with the help of its solid rocket boosters||Protons accelerated by Linac 2, then the Proton Synchrotron Booster, the Proton Synchrotron, Super Proton Synchrotron, and finally the LHC||It’s all about protons and boosters. I’m all about tenuous connections and dubious puns.|
|Detectors||AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer)
Calibrated using proton beam
Real data from cosmic rays
|CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
AMS was designed at CERN, and one of those proton beams came from the Super Proton Synchrotron, which also accelerates protons to inject them into the Large Hadron Collider (see also the bottom half of the too-much-infographic.) The AMS control room is also at CERN.For a while the AMS was just across the road from my office. I took a few pictures of it just before it left, with my phone since my camera was broken at the time. One is shown below. The astronauts who installed it gave a talk at CERN a year after the installation, which you can watch online.
|LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
|MoEDAL (The Monopole & Exotics Detector at the LHC)
|ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
|LHCf (Large Hadron Collider forward)
Simulating cosmic rays
using proton beam
|ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)
Calibrated using cosmic rays
Real data from proton beam
|Countries Involved||16||111||The International Space Station’s Facebook page and also the International Cooperation page say 15 nations. NASA’s Human Space Flight FAQ says 16. I went with the higher number, because people from other countries are probably involved anyway. I know that at CERN, it’s usually the countries of the institutions that are counted, when there might be people from many other countries working for those institutions. Here is a list of countries involved in CERN. As a maths major, I don’t trust my counting abilities, so I got the 111 figure from the LHC UK site. As explained above, the real number is probably higher.|
|1984||Here’s an interesting document on the conception of the ISS, which was essentially the coming together of several separate space station projects. The idea for the LHC (sometimes called the Juratron in early papers, after the Jura mountains) had been floating around since 1977 (see this talk by Lyn Evans for a nice history of the LHC) but 1984 was the date of the first conference about it. The idea was officially approved in 1994.|
|On-site Assembly||1998—2013||1998—2008||Of course, this depends what you count. The LHC date is from the start of civil engineering to the completion of the beam pipe around the entire circuit including the detectors. There was a huge repair effort after the cooling leak in 2008, and there’s work going on right now to upgrade the detectors and get the LHC itself up to the original design energy of 7TeV.|
(after which it will be upgraded)
|Some sources say the ISS could run till 2025 or 2028, but for now it’s officially funded until 2020. There are so many plans for upgrades and successors to the LHC that I’m a little confused as to when the LHC itself actually shuts off, but I’m going by the diagram in this article.|
$72.4billion in 2010 dollars
unofficial calculation, not counting shuttle missions
|CHF6 billion||Having a real-life space station occupied continuously for nearly 13 years, and finding out what the universe is made of? Priceless! For the LHC, the figure of 4.6 billion is given here, but I chose the CERN FAQ/LHC Guide as the reference since it is newer and probably more carefully checked by more people. This was the booklet given out to volunteers at the 2008 open day.|
Shuttles driven by ISS personnel
(Kennedy Space Center to/from ISS, 1998—2011)
Soyuz driven by ISS personnel
(Baikonur Cosmodrome to/from ISS, 2000—present)
(Geneva Airport to/from any airport on Earth)
Shuttle driven by ISS personnel
(Geneva Airport to/from CERN Meyrin site)
|Here is a picture of an ISS employee driving a CERN shuttle:|
|Around||Unpowered flight||Shuttles driven by ISS personnel between various CERN sites|
|Unmanned cargo transport||
H-II Transfer Vehicle
(Tanegashima Space Center to/from ISS)
(Baikonur Cosmodrome to/from ISS)
Automated Transfer Vehicle
(Guiana Space Center to/from ISS)
ROCLA magnet transport robots
Magnet alignment robots
|I saw an explanation of the CERN robots at an event in Microcosm years ago, but haven’t been able to find much information on them online.|
||The bird escaped unharmed but lost its bread.|
“International Space Station” papers on arxiv.org
|more than 1000 “Large Hadron Collider” papers on arxiv.org||The paper count for ISS is from August 2012; when I checked again in June 2013, the count was 116, but I assume the other papers still exist. In any case, this is only a rough idea of how much science has been done with the help of the ISS. It shouldn’t be taken as a serious estimate of the benefits thereof.|
|Fiction||Only fictional space stations can destroy a planet with an energy beam.||Only fictional particle accelerators can destroy a planet with their energy beams.||I haven’t even seen Star Wars and I still managed to get a reference in.|
||You can see more about NASA technology spinoffs, search for NASA technology available for licensing, or find out about CERN technology transfer.|
|When to see it||As it passes overhead just before dawn or just after sunset||When it’s not running; ideally the 2013 Open Days.||If you set your location and follow @twisst on Twitter, you can be notified whenever there will be a visible ISS pass in your area.You can see CERN’s other exhibitions, or book guided tours at any time.|
Most awesome man-made thing in Earth orbit. Don’t make me compare it with Mars rovers.
Most awesome man-made thing on Earth.
|They’re both unique in their own way, right? Both pretty special research facilities, right? […] I think again it’s that spirit of exploration that we’re all pushing on. We all want to understand something new, discover something that nobody’s seen before, so at CERN, damn sure, that spirit drives you every day, you’re looking for new things. I see it in your papers: what is this theory? Are we changing physics? It’s the same thing we’re doing. How can I look at a physical phenomenon that occurs in one gravity, remove the one gravity term, and now get a totally different perspective on that same physical phenomenon, that then allows me to advance in a different area. So I think it’s that same passion that drives people. But I don’t know which one’s best. — William H. Gerstenmaier at CERN on 6 November 2012|
Oft upon a spacetime,
a red star gets the blues
and puffs up like a superstar
with nothing left to fuse.
Pushing hot and heavy,
it finds its stellar rise
affords a new and rapid way
Squirts new heavy ions
to interstellar dust
then collapses in and pulls some back
and into stellar crust.
compressed by weight of all
our star invites its nearest friends
to join the neutron ball.
neutron star where mass of more
than one Earth Sun is bound.
Heart a seething chaos,
skin so smooth and hard,
beneath the skin, too densely packed
to tell each piece apart.
Love-crossed star starts dancing
with friend who heard the call:
another star-crossed lover,
another neutron ball.
They pull each other closer,
spin fast, and by and by,
they kiss in bursts of gamma rays
and heavy nuclei.
Once upon a planet
of star-fused chemistry
some humans sought to learn of how
their atoms came to be:
Made their own large nuclides
used traps to measure mass,
then calculated where they’d fit
in star’s electron gas.
Nuclides so unstable
they fall apart on Earth,
at pressure, they survive in dead
star hotbed’s upper berth:
Isotopes of nickel,
and lots of iron too,
zinc-80 (deeper than we thought)
But no zinc-82.
Once upon a line graph,
those data points could show,
a hint of where and when and how
big elements may grow.
Is it supernovas,
or casanovas’ kiss?
Is it neither? Some of both?
And what else did we miss?
Probed big atoms’ origins,
but all their parents knew:
My daughter works in science labs;
don’t ask me what they do!
Tried to tell the physicists
but all that students knew:
zinc-80 (deeper than they thought)
and no zinc-82.
This is my understanding (as a mere mathematician/code monkey) of the cover story of this month’s CERN Courier. I picked up a copy on Friday evening on the way out of work, and decided I could interview people I know in ISOLDE and write an article about it in 400 words or fewer in order to apply for an editorial trainee scheme at New Scientist magazine, since applications weren’t due until Monday and I needed a writing project for the weekend anyway. Once I’d read the article and enough supporting material to understand it, I realised I probably wouldn’t end up writing the article. I wasn’t sure I really understood the significance of it, I didn’t have access to the original paper from home, and what’s more, the result was a month and a half old, which is far too old, according to New Scientist’s freelancing guidelines. It might work for getting an internship at Old Scientist, but I probably wouldn’t like that because I’m the editor-in-chief at Old Scientist and I’d probably treat my interns poorly.
Anyhow, I decided I’d just appoint myself New Scientist’s, or maybe the CERN Courier’s, unofficial contributing troubadour, and write poems about their feature articles. If Popular Science can have a contributing troubadour, so can New Scientist. So, certain I couldn’t adequately explain ISOLTRAP’s result in 400 words or fewer, I set about writing a poem about it, which came out at 302 words. I tackled it rather longitudinally though; it doesn’t go much into the specifics (or even mention the r-process or ISOLTRAP by name) and occasionally I may sacrifice clarity for rhythm or puns, but I tried to give all the context needed to have some kind of understanding of the final result. This article is probably easier to understand than the CERN Courier one. One of the many interesting things I learnt while researching this is that stars actually get the blues before going supernova.
Here is a handy, sometimes whimsical (but always as accurate as I could manage) comparison between two of my favourite scientific endeavours (now version 1.1, with changes detailed in a new post, along with a HTML table version with all the notes visible.) It is too cluttered with information to be a good infographic, so I’m calling it a TMIGraphic. Click on the image for a higher-resolution pdf with links and copious notes. It’s best if you save it and open it in a pdf reader rather than viewing it in your web browser, as the notes didn’t show up in the browser I tried. Click on each information box for the primary or most readable reference, and click the note icons for more explanations, references and interesting links. If you can’t see the note icons in the pdf, or if clicking on them doesn’t do anything, let me know and I’ll try to figure something out; the notes are important.
I’ve wanted to do this for at least three years; I think it started with wondering which was cooler, and immediately answering myself with the relevant temperatures. When I started this round of Writing Cards (and not so much Letters) I thought I’d work on it slowly throughout the year, then finish it when the appropriate cards came up in one of the NASA decks and the CERN deck in the same week. This didn’t work for two reasons: every time I started to work on it slowly (and also, when I first came up with the idea of doing it as an infographic a year or so ago) I got stuck on the vacuum pressure outside the ISS. And even though the week’s CERN card is about LINAC-1, the NASA card seemed like a challenge that I couldn’t resist. Is the International Space Station really the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program ever attempted? Well, I don’t want to choose a favourite. Let’s just say the Large Hadron Collider is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program on Earth, and the ISS is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program in space.
This took longer than my usual deadline of a week, but not through procrastination. Also not so that it would be released four years and two days after the first beam went through the LHC, though I’ll use that as an excuse if it helps. Almost every one of those numbers took quite a bit of effort to get right, and you’ll see in the notes in the pdf (that’s the old pdf, corresponding to the TMIGraphic pictured; here‘s the most recent one) that most of them come with various caveats and explanations, because nothing is simple. I’ll have to update some pages in wikipedia after this. I’m certain I still have some things wrong; maybe some obvious things. Please point them out, and I’ll fix them in the next version. Also, feel free to tell me how bad my layout is, iff you have a better suggestion. I know this is not perfect yet and I intend to keep working on it. If you have ideas of information to add, I’d like to hear that too; especially if you have leads on where to get that information. I can provide the original OmniGraffle document if you want to make your own changes, but I’d have to clean it up a bit first; there are a few things that I just made invisible rather than deleting.
The vacuum pressure outside the station gave me the most trouble; I’d hoped it would be a simple equation, or a statistic NASA would publish on their general ISS fact pages, but mainly I just found statements that the pressure inside the LHC beam pipe was the same as at 1000km altitude. For ISS orbit I found values or equations around the place suggesting values that differed by a factor of a billion, and nothing that seemed convincingly more authoritative than the others. Finally, via the Wikipedia page on orders of magnitude of pressure, I found a NASA document with the numbers for 500km, so I used those. It actually varies by a factor of 20. This is still at least 70km higher than the station, so outside the station it’s more likely to be toward the higher end of that range; that is, a less perfect vacuum than inside the LHC beam pipe.
I also had some technical difficulties with the presentation (apart from the clutter and my lack of graphical talent or training.) Firstly, I’m sorry if colour-blind people have trouble distinguishing anything. I wanted to use a colour-blind safe palette, but the paler colours wouldn’t have had enough contrast with white to work with the style I’d chosen. The colours of the information boxes are not essential anyway; they just group them into broad categories and might make it a bit easier for people to find the corresponding information about the ISS or the LHC.
As for finding the corresponding information boxes about the ISS and LHC, it’s really not optimal. There’s a tangled mess of dashed lines connecting them which is really no more functional than background decoration. I thought of making each info box link to the corresponding one on the other diagram, but although that worked in OmniGraffle, in a pdf viewer it did not zoom in enough on the linked box to make it sufficiently obvious which one you’d just jumped to. I also would have liked to make the links in the notes clickable, and add images to some of them. Again, this was possible in OmniGraffle but not in pdf. I’m not sure if there’s a common format that allows all these things.
So, after all that, the important question: Which one would win in a fight?
Of course it depends what the fight is, and here’s where you can get creative. In a weight-loss competition such as The Biggest Loser, I think the ISS would win, having lost about an eighth of its weight by going up to 426km altitude. Though the LHC did lose a fair bit of helium at one point. Meanwhile, the ISS literally runs rings around the LHC, and would certainly win the high jump. If you have an idea, feel free to comment here or, as the TMIgraphic says, tweet it with the #ISSvsLHC hashtag. Maybe it’ll catch on.
As for the ultimate winner, I’ll let Wil Wheaton have the last word. Science. SCIENCE!
Update: I heard back from my friend who had information on the LHC tunnel temperature (actually the temperature of the LHCb cavern, but it should be about the same), and updated that. I also added information in the notes about the exhibition on the AMS detector which you can come see at CERN Microcosm at the moment, and nudged a few things inwards so the preview is a little narrower. If you’ve gone through all the notes in the old pdf you might already have seen this talk given at CERN by the astronauts who installed the AMS on the International Space Station. I was there, and I wanted to ask (for the purposes of this comparison) which they thought was the most awesome out of the LHC and the ISS, but I was in one of the few spots without a microphone.
One thing I’d been meaning to mention is that the path to ‘orbit’ of both things starts with a proton and continues with a booster. The first module of the ISS was put into orbit using a Proton rocket, and many of the rest were taken to orbit on the space shuttle, with its solid rocket boosters. In the LHC, it’s the particle called a proton and the Proton Synchrotron Booster which accelerates it as part of the journey to the LHC.
In the film Spider-Man 3, escaped convict Flint Marko jumps over a fence marked:
Particle Physics Test Facility
And ends up getting caught in a some kind of beam and becoming the Sandman, a being made out of sand who can change his shape at will. I watched it in the theatre with about a dozen people from CERN (all of them named Maikel), and one of them exclaimed, ‘Run to building 40, get a coffee!’
Unfortunately, you won’t turn into the Sandman by sneaking into CERN. But you might just turn into something like the Silver Surfer. Well, okay, maybe you wouldn’t travel faster than light, but you could levitate. I finally got to do so on their superconducting scooter at the Supra Show to celebrate 100 years of superconductivity a couple of weeks ago:
And you don’t even need to jump a fence! Just keep an eye on CERN’s homepage and MaNEP’s homepage, and sign up to the Globe’s mailing list to find out when there will be interesting talks and demonstrations for the general public. There are also a few other events coming up where it might make an appearance. I’ve seen the scooter at a couple of different events, and I don’t know how often they bring it out, but there are many other interesting talks and demonstrations.
There’s more information on how the superconducting scooter works in the video description. It’s essentially superdiamagnetism, as far as I know. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Superman, but hey, it’s real! Welcome to the future. Here’s a nice explanation which begins with a Superman reference. Incidentally, you don’t have to be a superconductor to levitate due to diamagnetism. Even frogs can levitate, but it’s not easy.
Of course, the other way you could become a superhero is by using Generic™ brand hair gel.
By the way, the song in that video is Liquid Nitrogen, by CERN’s other LHC, Les Horribles Cernettes. My other superpower is knowing a song about almost every topic. Today, somebody brought up Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that becoming an expert at something takes 10 000 hours of practice, so I decided to find out how much time I’ve spent listening to funny music. I wrote an AppleScript to sum up the time spent listening to the selected songs in iTunes, and selected all the songs in my Silly Songs playlist. Alas, I have only listened to it for 3026 hours, at least since April 2005 when I dropped my iPod and lost all that information. So if it turns out there’s something I don’t have a song about, it’s because I’m not an expert. I am an expert on all of my music, including the ‘normal’ stuff, though, with 11 242 hours.
Back to superheroes: Could somebody who understands more about the relationship of electric power to superconductivity please make a joke involving Spider-Man’s ‘with great power comes great responsibility’? As far as I can tell, with great power comes the same great power, circulating forever, but that’s not very funny. Just like immortality without immunity to pain isn’t very funny after the Sun burns out, when you’re just floating through space for eons on end, occasionally getting stuck inside a star or black hole until it goes supernova or evaporates.
Addendum: I finally wrote a short story about that last sentence.
Addendum 2: Someone I know only as arthurd006_5 suggests ‘with great power comes great coercivity‘ but isn’t sure whether that works electromagnetically. It does sound nice though, and outside of electromagnetism, great coercion seems to come with great power.
The following video is not an example of creative output on my part, for by giving Secretary of Geek Affairs Wil Wheaton the CERN T-shirt featured, I simply did what clearly needed to be done. I am nonetheless pleased to have induced what I believe to be an example of my favourite word, ‘epizeuxis‘:
Here is a picture of the card that comes with the T-shirt, which has an explanation of the equation (click for the text of the card and a higher-resolution version of the photo):
I have written an ‘origin story’ in the style of Peter Sagal’s, explaining the improbable series of events that led to my being on a boat in a position to give Wil Wheaton a CERN T-shirt, and drawing a parallel between the above video and Peter Sagal‘s bird feeder made out of a coconut. However, it ended up somewhat long (1000 words) and show-offish, and I have been too busy watching concert videos to edit it properly (indeed, I arbitrarily stopped editing it when I noticed the word count was exactly 1000), so I’ll put it below the ‘more’ thingy for you to ignore. I’m not sure whether all of the events are in the right order, but the story is 1000 words long so it’s too late to edit them now. It looks like I’ll even have to include the superfluous second introduction, since I accidentally included that in the word count.
It’s a shame, really, because I promised somebody I’d include the word ‘shanty’, and now I can’t edit it in. But you can’t argue with integer powers of the number of digits most humans have on their hands.
If you pine for the mystery
before Noah’s ark
we’ve remade prehistory
at Juratron Park.
Come atoms, come molecules,
See what you were back then.
Come out for a frolic, you’ll
spin unperturbed again.
Those that wander can find
on our Memory Lane walks
they’re no longer confined
to a group of three quarks.
Before we were three
we were free from our tether,
and though we were free
we were closer together.
We loved antimatter,
we were one, nigh elation
to meet and to natter
’bout CP violation.
So come to a place
that’s more bright than the sun
where we’d meet face to face
‘fore they lost and we won.
Then back where you’re from,
bound together by force,
Go back to your com-
pounds, to never divorce.
We don’t all get on,
talk is charged and polemical
but each baryon
has its place in a chemical.
If protons complain
then you reach in and tell ’em, in
truth you all gain
when you’re each in your element.
You’re not vexed when you seek
But you know you’re unique
when divided, diverse.
Make the world have this aim:
make the world we’re in different.
The more we’re the same,
the more we’re indifferent.
Just over twelve hours to write something. I should have started sooner. I’ll start by reading the section on short short stories in Susan Tiberghian’s book, because it’s about time I wrote some prose. She says, ‘A story, be it short or book length, creates a dream in the reader’s mind.’ Can I create a universe in your head in twelve hours? How much of the real universe had been created after twelve hours? It didn’t take much more than seventeen minutes for the newly created protons and neutrons to band together into light nuclei.
Things go a little slower now, but perhaps I can do something similar in the time I have. First, I need some protons to start from. That’s easy. Take three random cards from my pile of sixes of clubs. With any luck, they’ll be different enough that merely finding a link between them will give me an entire story, but not so different that I can’t find a link. Three quarks to form a proton or neutron, two the same, one different.
An ordinary six of clubs. Why do the boring cards always come up when I do this? A close-up of a black spotted cow in Holland. Well, cows eat clovers. Spreading phlox in Canada. Sounds like something made up by Dr. Seuss. Too similar. Do the phlox and clovers vie for the cow’s attention? Can I write an interesting story about a perfectly ordinary cow eating clovers? Susan quotes Eunice Scarfe as saying, ‘If we have lived, we each have a story.’ What is the cow’s story? Perhaps the letter of the week can help me. H, from the Semitic letter ח. According to wikipedia, the form of the letter probably stood for a fence or posts. There are none, in the field where this Dutch cow lived.
Green clovers and phlox
I do not like this spreading phlox,
I would not like it with an ox.
I’d rather risk a mad cowpox,
by joining all the other stocks
and munching on a tasty clover,
but alas I can’t get over,
Thank goodness I’ve a bale of stover,
some for me and some left over.
No, this isn’t going anywhere. I quite like the CERN card this week though: formation of nuclei, or nucleosynthesis: Temperature is low enough to allow protons and neutrons to combine to form nuclei (deuterium, helium, lithium) Conditions similar to interior of stars. It could be an analogy for so many things.
At first, I was friends with everyone. Any kid who would play with me for five minutes was my friend for five minutes, maybe six. Later on, they tired of bouncing between playmates, and formed more lasting friendships. I flew through them alone, at times kicked here and there by their repulsion, at times accepted temporarily into a more neutral group. Finally I collided with another lone spark, and we bonded.
Not bad, I guess. But I don’t know how long I could continue it. What’s the letter of the week again? Ah… H is for hydrogen, which has the lightest nucleus of all, a single proton, which would have existed even before nucleosynthesis started. What can I say about hydrogen? I may not have much of a story, but I have the best title ever.
Big Bang Nucleosynaesthesia
I didn’t know how,
but somehow I knew.
I used to think hydrogen was green. The letter H was as green as they come, and I didn’t know where else I would have got that association from.
My family had several old cars, often referred to as ‘old bombs’. One was exactly the colour of H, and I was burning to make a joke about it being an H-bomb. I always stopped just short of saying anything, because I couldn’t figure out what made H green. Was hydrogen green? It ought to be. Eventually, the frustration of not being able to tell this joke got to me, and I asked my dad whether hydrogen was green. It wasn’t.
Some time later, I gathered the courage to ask him whether the letter H was green. I don’t remember what colour he said it was, but it was not green. He said that perhaps the colours we associated with numbers and letters came from fridge magnets or alphabet books we had as children. A is for apple, so maybe that’s why it was red. Only, it’s more of a pinkish red.
When I was a teenager, I heard about something called synaesthesia, where people could taste colours, see sounds, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful combinations. How strange it must be to see a red apple and taste
a steak and cheese pie. How amazing it must be to see an entire symphony laid out like an intricately knotted carpet. How enlightening it must be to feel a graph tingling on the back of the neck, and linking intuitively with other information like a massage from a well-trained masseuse.
Synaesthetes were real-world superheroes, until I found out I was one. A few years ago I read about something called grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which means that people automatically associate letters and numbers with colours. Like all kinds of synaesthesia, it runs in families. Different people have different colours for each letter and number, although ‘A’ is quite frequently reported to be red. It does not seem to depend on the fridge magnets the synaesthetes were exposed to. Nor does it reveal any deep truths about the universe outside my head. On the other hand, people are talking a lot about hydrogen as a green alternative to fossil fuels these days…
Perhaps this idea would just about cut it. Perhaps not. The H fridge magnet which I’ll have to use to illustrate it is an incongruous red. An H in disguise; it took me a while to find.
Sunset. The faintly fading photons remind me that it’s time to fuse all these proto-ideas into the nucleus of a story. Perhaps if I force myself to write them, a link will reveal itself. But they stubbornly stay separate, isolated and inadequate. Perhaps that’s how it should be. Most of the universe today is made of hydrogen, those lone protons which slipped through the nucleosynthesis stage unaffected. I just need to embellish them with electrons, and send them electronically across the globe.
Note: I wrote this with the tune and sentiment of Tom Smith‘s A Boy and his Frog (mp3) in my head. If you know the tune, please imagine that this poem is sung to the same tune as whichever verses it fits.
You might think that we’re just doing science
With a hadron collider so large.
But we’ve built this electric alliance
to give weight to our positive charge.
Take researchers from every nation,
Let the humans within them collide.
We will find the grand unification
when we see we’re all on the same side.
And with ev’ry race, tongue and religion
we’ll find how to give all the world mass.
If we’d all interact just a smidgen
with the openness through which we pass
we’d see life’s ups and downs become charming and strange,
when we face them head on, and what’s more,
seeking beauty and truth we can make a big change
with small change from the purses of war.
Take the light at the end of the tunnel,
and ensure it goes all the way round,
to illuminate more than the sun’ll,
and enlighten with what we have found:
When you’ve unresolved matters, and not enough kin,
and face too many forces to name,
if you cut out the din, and put energy in,
it turns out that we’re all just the same.