In a lush valley near Geneva, Switzerland, the work of more than 10,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians from 60 countries culminated in the first beam of protons zooming at nearly the speed of light around the 17-mile Large Hadron Collider. The massive physics research project will recreate on a small scale within the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Laboratory for Nuclear Research, the explosive first moments of the birth of the universe.
As part of the ALICE experiment, short for A Large Ion Collider Experiment, physicists will accelerate lead atoms to nearly the speed of light, collide their nuclei and then visualize the expelled particles that make up the protons and neutrons of the lead nuclei – quarks and gluons. Sensitive detectors will measure the particles’ reactions, recording approximately 1.25 gigabytes of data per second – or as much as three DVDs per minute.
“Traditionally, researchers would do much, if not all, of their computing at one central computing center. This cannot be done with the ALICE experiments because of the large data volumes,” said Thomas J. Humanic, professor of physics at The Ohio State University.
The massive data sets are distributed to researchers around the world through high-speed connections to the “Grid,” a network of computer clusters at scientific institutions, including the Ohio Supercomputer Center.
Beyond serving as a storage and analysis resource for researchers working on the project, “OSC has been critical in the development and testing of a computing model to analyze the ALICE data,” Humanic said.
OSC already has provided 300,000 CPU hours for data simulations and has allocated up to one million hours for analysis of the first experimental data, expected in Fall 2008. ALICE already has yielded many valuable second-order benefits in areas such as distributed computing, mass data storage and access, software development, and instrument design.
“After working on this project for several years, we look forward to data being collected and continuing to provide resources to aid discovery of the planet’s greatest mysteries,” said Doug Johnson, senior systems engineer at the Ohio Supercomputer Center.
The first circulating beam is a major accomplishment on the way to the ultimate goal: high-energy beams colliding in the centers of the LHC’s particle detectors. The scientists participating in these experiments will analyze these collisions in search of extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the physical universe. Beyond revealing a new world of unknown particles, the LHC experiments could explain why those particles exist and behave as they do. They could reveal the origins of mass, shed light on dark matter, uncover hidden symmetries of the universe, and possibly find extra dimensions of space.
"As the largest and most powerful particle accelerator on Earth, the LHC represents a monumental technical achievement," said U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach. "I congratulate the world's scientists and engineers who have made contributions to the construction of the accelerator for reaching this milestone. We now eagerly await the results that will emerge from operation of this extraordinary machine."
Note: Photos and videos from the LHC First Beam day at CERN are available at: http://www.cern.ch/lhc-first-beam. Information about the US participation in the LHC is available at http://www.uslhc.us.
About the Ohio Supercomputer Center
Celebrating 20 years of service, the Ohio Supercomputer provides supercomputing, networking, research and educational resources to a diverse state and regional community including education, academic research, industry, and government. OSC promotes and stimulates computational research and education to enable the state to achieve its aspirations in information systems and advanced technology and industries. For additional information, visit www.osc.edu.
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.