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Saturday, April 18, 2015


I've long admired physicists.  I barely survived physics courses in college and only the very smartest members of our society graduate with a degree in this field.  Mind you, many who do can't find jobs in their chosen fields, and only the very brightest end up in astrophysics to lead our space program or quantum physics to find the God Particle and speculate on dark matter and energy.   

Don't feel too sorry for all of them, however, for four years ago the average PhD physicist in the USA made $112,090.  Of course, if it's money you want, chemical engineering is where you want to be:

Note, that was six years ago.  But the relative salaries do not change much.  In 2013, PhD  chemical engineers  started at $90,500, compared with $66,000 for a new PhD chemist.  Quick aside, but only 6% of scientists are Republicans.  

My blog yesterday (scroll down to the next posting) focused on fusion power.  When I worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion as a biochemical engineer, I was a second class citizen, for physicists ran the lab.  Same situation when I spent some time at the NASA Ames Research Center, for physicists served in the leadership role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Anyway, that was a long introduction into the topic of the day:  super mega colliders, the ultimate toy of physicists.    Seven years ago (wow, I didn't realize I've been doing this for that long!!!), this blog site reported:

There is an $8 billion project, called the Large Hadron Collider, scheduled to begin operations in Geneva by 2008. This is a particle accelerator nearing completion at the French-Swiss border, five miles across and 300 feet underground. The expectation is that the beams of proton will attain 99.999999% the speed of light and set the stage for the next new theory to merge quantum theory and relativity. This experiment shifts high-energy physics, for the first time, away from the United States, so we are, with some futility, trying to develop the International Linear Collider, an even bigger particle accelerator, for $12 billion. Remember, these projects only provide more information, and, as we will later learn, the annual U.S. Department of Energy renewable energy budget to kick our addiction to oil, is less than $1 billion/year.

All this super physics harkens me back to the Superconducting Supercollider, another particle accelerator, which took ten years of planning and mobilization to the point where tunneling and excavations were nearly complete and a laboratory staff of 2,000 employees were assembled in Texas…when it was summarily cancelled in 1993, because at more than $8 billion, Congress deemed it to be too expensive. Mainly, we had won the Cold War, and it wasn’t necessary anymore to show how terrific a country we were, plus, two Democrats, President Bill Clinton and Texas Governor Ann Richards, had no desire to uphold the legacy of the previous Republican administrations. This is yet another example of how politics can change priorities, sometimes for the good.

About that second paragraph, I still wonder if I did the right thing.  When I worked for the U.S. Senate a third of a century ago, a group of mostly Democratic staffers got together to kill the Superconducting Supercollider.  It took us (well, I was hardly a factor, actually) more than a decade, but, the politics of those times, more than anything else, in 1993, succeeded in actually assassinating the program when all the tunneling was mostly complete (actually, only 15 miles) and 2,000 people were already hired.

Interestingly enough, $8 billion then is worth more than $13 billion today, about the cost of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).  However, our Waxahachi (near Dallas/Fort Worth) facility had a circumference of 54 miles, and the LHC is only 16.8 miles.  More so, the maximum planned collision energy was to be 40 Tev.  The LHC operated at 8 TeV to find the Higgs Boson, and is now up to 14 TeV to detect Dark Matter.  We would have more than a decade ago accomplished what they are now doing in Europe, and more.  I would speculate that we would have detected Dark Matter by now.  As a matter of fact, the tunnel is still there.  Why should CERN bother to drill another one when America has one ready for use?  If nothing else, this should make a heck of a shelter from nuclear war or killer asteroids, and the whole thing is on sale for only $20 million.  By the way, can you believe Texas is this big?

Here is the current summary:
  • That $8 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has now cost $13.25 billion and will soon zoom past $15 billion.
  • That International Linear Collider (ILC), a U.S./U.K. effort, has gone nowhere, with Japan as the current favorite, for that country has suggested they would pay half the expenses.  On the other hand, Fukushima might have changed the financial equation.
  • Why do we need two supercolliders?  Well, the LHC provides a circular path, while the ILC is linear, and ten times longer than the Stanford linear accelerator.
  • What is the value of finding Dark Matter?  
It was three years ago that the LHC found the Higgs Boson, sometimes called The God Particle.    Ah, you've got to give credit to those creative physicists for coming up with this attention catcher:  God Particle.  This has something to do with the Cosmos and Standard Model.  Do I dare?  Sure, why not:
  • Our Universe is made up of 12 different kind of particles and four forces.
  • There are six quarks (make up protons and neutrons) and six leptons (electrons and neutrinos).
  • The four forces are gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak.

10,000 scientists/engineers from 100 countries, representing hundreds of universities and laboratories, assisted on this effort, emanating from the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

Now that the LHC is up to 14 TeV, utilizing 120 Megawatts (in the range of the average power used on an island like Maui), with protons moving at 99.99% the speed of light, kept in place by 9,300 magnets supercooled to minus 456.25 F, where colliding temperatures will be 100,000 times hotter than the center of the Sun, we await the debut of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  If you have kept up with this field, you surely know that we can only observe 4% of what is surmised to be here.  No one has yet seen or measured dark matter nor dark energy.  This concept only began to be appreciated around the time the Cold War ended, and there is no relationship between Dark and Cold War.

Next?  At the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing, a Higgs Factory is being contemplated for operation by 2028 at a mere 32 miles (52 km circumference) for a cost of a modest $3 billion.  China is into largest in the world these days and appears to be now building Sky City in Changsa, a structure to be 2,749 feet tall (Burj Khalifa in Dubai is 2,722 ft).

Finally, the Very Large Hadron Collider (VLHC), 100 kilometers (62 miles--making it larger than that original American effort) and 100 TeV, seems to be the next iteration for 2035.  Actually, there are two such schemes being proposed, including one at CERN, where the current LHC is located.  These physicists actually have said the next big ones will cost "only" $10 billion, to make them more politically plausible.  Governments will swallow this ploy.


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