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Beautiful Data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

250px LHC svg2 150x150 Beautiful Data from CERN’s Large Hadron ColliderEven folks who tended to cut Physics class in high school will be fascinated by data displays coming from the newly restarted Large Hadron Collider (LHC).   This gigantic science experiment was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and runs 17 miles in a circular tunnel under French and Swiss territory.  The LHC was designed to create particle collisions at ultra-high energy levels, resulting in data that’s expected to help scientists answer fundamental questions about the origin and nature of the cosmos.

The LHC data may also create some new questions along the way.  But for now—after a series of challenges and delays—the experiment has recently reached a huge milestone:  On March 30, 2010, the first seven TeV collisions occurred.  (TeV stands for “tera electron volts,” by the way.)  In simple terms, scientists have succeeded in smashing together sub-atomic particles at something near the speed of light.  Data about the collisions is collected by devices that can measure time to a few billionths of a second and register location to millionths of a metre.

For more about the breakthrough events at the LHC, there’s excellent, easy to understand coverage in this BBC story.  And the LHC Wikipedia article offers a more extensive look at the science and history of the project.  CERN’s LHC website is also a great source of information.  (Short of time?  Take the 3 Minute CERN Tour at YouTube.)

But the LHC is not just the biggest science experiment of all time—it’s also the biggest project ever in terms of gathering, analyzing, and displaying data.  About fifteen million gigabytes of data will be collected each year, and the data will be stored and processed in a worldwide computer grid.  To get a feel for what scientists are seeing, check out snapshots of the real-time data displays from two LHC experiments:  CMS and Alice.  Even though most of us won’t understand the information itself, it’s still fascinating to get a glimpse of what it looks like.

Cynthia Giles
Spotfire Blogging Team

Image Credit: LHC Wikipedia article

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