Wednesday, September 17, 2008

'LHC day' was highest profile physics event in history


IF YOU felt that you couldn't get away from coverage of the LHC last week, you were right.

An estimated television audience of 1 billion watched as beams of protons made their first 27-kilometre laps of the particle smasher. On 10 September alone 5853 articles about the LHC were published worldwide. "It is quite overwhelming," says CERN spokesman James Gillies. "We weren't just on the news, we were top of the news."

Physicists hope that what is probably the highest profile event in their history will inspire the next generation. "We expect a sort of 'Sputnik effect'," says CERN theorist John Ellis. "On 11 September the CERN jobs website got something like 100 times more hits than on a regular day."

With the world watching, it is perhaps just as well that the day's tests exceeded expectations. LHC controllers sent two beams of protons in opposite directions around the ring. The test runs worked so smoothly that controllers completed four days' worth of work in the first day. Now there is a good chance that plans to collide beams with 450 gigaelectronvolts of energy each will be brought forward, followed by the first collisions with 5000 GeV beams by day 31.

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