Friday, 23 December 2011

Listening to the earth move

Christchurch-based sound engineer Ben Edwards recorded a magnitude 6 earthquake which struck earthquake-plagued Christchurch in New Zealand on 23.12.11.

As Edwards tells it, "whilst recording some drums in an old brick warehouse for the up and coming Eastern album we experienced a large aftershock. (5.8 in magnitude). We sat outside for a while and convinced ourselves it was ok to re enter the old building and continue our project... I was rolling as we were undertaking some line and level checking... this time we got it. 6.0 magnitude in a room full of kegs and bottles."

It's an incredible and sobering listen, and helps you understand what it must be like living in Christchurch - a city that's experienced nearly 10,000 earthqukes since the big one in September 2010.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

The LHC finds its first new particle

After the excitement from last week's press conference from CERN, which revealed that whilst they are getting closer, scientists still haven't found the Higg's boson, I don't think anyone was expecting a boson discovery from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) after-all. But we've been given an early Christmas present: the LHC has found it's first particle - Chi_b(nP).

Chi_b(nP) was found by physicists working with the ATLAS detector, who published their findings on arXiv yesterday. It is the first clear evidence for a new particle since the LHC opened in 2009.

Chi_b(nP) is made of a beauty quark and it's antiquark bound together. They are bonded by the so-called strong nuclear force which also causes the atomic nucleus to stick together. Chi_b(nP) is a heavier version of a particle that was first observed around 25 years ago. Like the elusive Higgs, it is a boson, meaning it is a particle that carries force.

"It's interesting for what it tells us about the forces that hold the quark and the anti-quark together - the strong nuclear force. And that's the same force that holds, for instance, the atomic nucleus together with its protons and the neutrons."
Prof Roger Jones from the ATLAS Collaboration, quoted on BBC News.


The 3D printer as teleporter

If you only read one article on 3D printing this year, it should be Anil Dash's fascinating analysis of this important emerging technology. Set out as a set of observations and pearls of wisdom aimed at people experimenting with the technology, the article acts as a sort of wishlist for where Dash hopes the 3D fabrication and printing world is headed. Contained within the list is this nugget:

"These devices are not '3D fax machines'. What you've actually made, when you have an internet-connected device that can both send and receive 3D-printed objects, is a teleporter."
Provocative and exciting stuff. Read the article now.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Science has nothing to fear from uncertainty

Ahead of today's press conference from CERN, which provides an update of the search for the Higg's boson, LHC physicist, Jon Butterworth, published a thoughtful piece in the Guardian, which reflected on this and the recent neutrino results from OPERA. In relation to the Higgs, he noted;

"Thanks to this machine, we will know quite soon which option – Higgs boson, or not – is realised in nature. If you are curious about the universe we live in, the prospect is pretty tasty either way. The Higgs boson is a long-searched-for prediction of the "standard model" of particle physics. Should it exist, it is responsible for the mass of the fundamental particles we are all made of, such as electrons and quarks. Its discovery would be a stunning vindication that our aesthetics and mathematics are genuinely connected with how the universe really operates. If it doesn't exist, then in a sense it's back to the drawing board: it would mean our understanding of nature has failed at the energies accessible at the LHC. We would have to learn some new tricks."

The quote that really caught my eye though was Butterworth's elaboration of the title of this post:

"It is worth being wrong in public sometimes. We should all know that science is a betting system, not a belief system. Near-certainty arises from a morass of uncertainty, it does not drop from heaven gift-wrapped. "

And now back to holding our breath ahead of the CERN press seminar ....


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Has the LHC found the Higgs?

The science blogosphere has been alive with rumours for the past few days suggesting that the large Hadron Collider may have found strong evidence for the Higgs boson. Staff have been notified that a press conference is being held on 13 December, with updates being given from the research groups associated with the two main detectors at the LHC - ATLAS and the CMS.

The rumours are centred on evidence of the Higgs being located at low mass ranges - around 125-126 GeV.

The rumours have become so strong that John Ellis, Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King's College London, was quoted today on the BBC, saying that he's expecting to see "the first glimpse of the Higgs next week:

"I think we are going to get the first glimpse. The LHC experiments have already looked high and low for this missing piece. It could be that it weighs several hundred times the proton mass, but that seems very unlikely, then there's a whole intermediate range where we know it cannot be, then there's the low mass range where we actually expect it might be. There seem to be some hints emerging there... and that's what we're going to learn on Tuesday".

Ian Sample provided a useful update of the various positions and murmurings here.