Various News

The CERN Bulletin has been providing weekly updates about the progress of LHC repairs, with the latest one here. One thing they don’t seem to have mentioned is that it looks like the schedule has recently slipped by nearly a month. The schedule approved in early February had checkout of the machine in week 38 (week of Sept. 14) and first beam week 39 (week of Sept. 21). The latest draft of the schedule (see page 42 of this presentation) has checkout in week 42 and beam in week 43. So, it looks like the latest plan calls for injection of a beam around October 19th, collisions sometime in November.

I today heard an odd rumor about a problem this past weekend with the on-going repairs in sector 34, but there may be nothing to it, so I’ll try to stick to only mongering confirmed rumors.

The blogging world continues to expand with new institutional initiatives to set up blogs. There’s a new version of Quantum Diaries out, along the same lines as a similar site set up back in 2005. That’s the one that Tommaso Dorigo survived, along with some other physicists who have kept blogging, including Gordon Watts and Peter Steinberg. Unlike the 2005 incarnation, this version seems to be restricted to experimentalists, no theorists allowed. It also uses the same address as the old site, which unfortunately seems to no longer be accessible. Whether it is possible or desirable to set up a mechanism to ensure the availability in the future of blog content is an interesting question.

The AMS has set up a blog for mathematics graduate students, which so far mostly consists of professional advice.

One piece of news that might be interesting to some of these graduate students is that the NSF has just announced a plan to use some of the stimulus money to provide 30 two-year postdocs aimed at students on the job market this spring who have not yet found employment. The money is being funneled through the various institutes supported by the NSF, with the idea that the jobs will generally be hosted at other institutions, which will provide a mentor and possibly teaching opportunities. The deadline to apply for these jobs is very soon (April 10), there’s more here, here, here and here.

One unusual thing about these postdocs (compared to usual NSF postdocs) is that it appears they are available to anyone who is getting their degree from a US university, not just US citizens or green-card holders. It also seems to be possible to hold the postdoc outside the US, at some MSRI-affiliated institutions such as the University of Toronto. Adding up the cost of the 30 postdocs comes to maybe $3 million or so, leaving open the question on everyone’s mind in academia: what about the other %99.9 percent of the $3 billion in NSF stimulus money? Where’s that going to go?

I always wondered who the Pupin building housing the physics department here at Columbia was named after. Here’s the scoop.

The Origins symposium at ASU is finishing up today. It was webcast, but if you missed it archived video is starting to appear here. The Science Friday segment featured Michael Turner responding to Steven Weinberg’s claim that some anthropic argument is just common-sense with the remark that “some of us chafe at using anthropic and commonsense in the same sentence”. I haven’t yet seen the full multiverse discussion from later last Friday, but presumably that will be available soon.

Update: One more. Today at CERN they’re celebrating Carlo Rubbia’s 75th birthday. Webcast going on right now, slides here.

Update: Hamish Johnston at Physics World asked CERN spokesman James Gillies about the delay in the draft schedule:

He also said that CERN is now looking for ways to make up the extra time identified by Bailey and he said that the repair team are confident of having the LHC running towards the end of September as planned.

Update: Yet one more: New Scientist has an interview of Witten by Matthew Chalmers here.

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15 Responses to Various News

  1. Coin says:

    Whether it is possible or desirable to set up a mechanism to ensure the availability in the future of blog content is an interesting question.

    Well, let’s just check…

    We’re sorry, access to has been blocked by the site owner via robots.txt.

    Oh… hm.

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Peter,

    the rumor about a problem in LHC sector 34 has some truth, in so far as there is a magnetic which will take longer to repair than originally planned. However, I have it on good authority that sector 34 is not on the critical path, so this problem magnet will not delay the LHC schedule further. (I was personally very worried about further delays, so I asked someone in a meeting for details, which he delivered.)


  3. Thomas R Love says:

    Columbia has a site about Pupin:

    I read his book:
    The New Reformation: From Physical to Spiritual Realities – Michael Pupin –
    many years ago. He refers to scientists as prophets.

  4. Thomas R Love says:

    According to the Mathematics Genealogy Project:

    Pupin had a graduate student by the name of Robert Millikan.

  5. Nigel Cook says:

    Pupin independently rediscovered and patented Heaviside’s original 1875 discovery that long telegraph cables could be made suitable for distortionless speech (long distance telephones) by increasing the inductance (e.g., putting inductance coils at intervals – merely amplifying the signal just amplifies the distortion, because the inductance effect is frequency dependent). Heaviside didn’t have funds to apply for a patent. Pupin’s patent in the USA made $1 million.

    Heaviside in England, despite formulating Maxwell’s equations in vector calculus, was simply ignored by Sir William Preece, head of the Post Office Telecommunications. Preece instead used public money to fund his own incorrect theory that the long-distance telephone voice distortion was due to the cable design, and tried for years to overcome distortion with better cables, setting back the introduction of long-distance phones in England by 20 years. Heaviside became increasingly rude towards Preece:

    ‘If you have got anything new … you need not expect anything but hindrance from the old practitioner even though he sat at the feet of Faraday. Beetles could do that … . But when the new views have become fashionably current, he may find it worth his while to adopt them, though, perhaps in a somewhat sneaking manner, not unmixed with bluster, and make believe he knew all about it when he was a little boy!’ – Oliver Heaviside, 10 March 1893.

    Preece had just stated in his 1893 IEE Presidential address: ‘I took the opportunity to formulate the theoretical views of electricity that I had acquired at the feet of Faraday.’

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Michael,

    From looking at the schedule, I had assumed that fixing sector 34 was on the critical path. If that’s not true, do you know what it is that now is considered the most likely source of delays?

    That sounds like a different rumor about a sector 34 problem, one better founded than what I heard…

  7. KevinS says:

    from the link…

    While studying electrical engineering at Columbia, Pupin became interested in Maxwell’s equations. After graduation in 1983, he went to Cambridge, England in order to work under James Clerk Maxwell in 1883 (looks like time travel was possible then). Alas, when he arrived at Cambridge, he found out Maxwell died four years earlier in 1979. This was the reality of trans-Atlantic communication at that time. There has been some improvement since then. (though, it would seem, not in editing)

    damn…1979…I could’ve tried for a signed edition from Maxwell.

  8. Andrei says:

    There is no way the LHC will run this year. Last time it took 6 months or more to cool each sector. To have beam in September, Cern would have to start to cool them now. Sector 34 is still under repairs so the cooling of this sector will realistically be sometime in july or August. You might be better off covering the new batch of results expected from the Tevatron in August. The most optimistic expect a Higgs 3 sigma anouncement. After all if the LHC was running the source of excitement would come from its results not from the simple fact that it is running. And having a low power beam cannot be called “running” in any case. Some of you might have to face a brutal truth: the LHC is a bit of a failure.

  9. Peter Woit says:


    If you look at the draft schedule, they certainly have a detailed plan for the cooldown, and a lot of experience from last year in how long it takes. My guess would be that, if nothing else goes wrong, in October they’ll be able to circulate a beam, colliding beams in November. They may be able to take some data late this year, but it will be at very low luminosity. It’s also true that even during 2010 the luminosity will be rather low, and energy only 5 TeV per beam. For many things (especially the Higgs), it won’t be until 2011 that they start getting useful data.

    This doesn’t mean at all that the LHC is in any way a failure, it just means that it is taking longer to get running than the official estimates originally indicated. This isn’t surprising in the least for a project of this complexity. In the long run, how long it takes to get the thing working is not important, what is important is whether it works. Even if it takes 10 years to get the thing working at design luminosity, if it then makes important discoveries, it will be a huge success.

    Official schedules are almost always overly optimistic, naturally reflecting estimates based on assuming that nothing significant goes wrong. Something almost always does go wrong, but, with some time and effort, whatever it is gets fixed. The huge media attention on the LHC may be more of an education for the public about how major scientific projects get done than some people intended.

  10. Sumar Ongi says:

    Update: Yet one more: New Scientist has an interview of Witten by Matthew Chalmers here.

    Well, interview of Witten turns out to be a wild overstatement. The article contains a couple of unremarkable sentences said by Witten, surrounded by several tens of lines of mostly meaningless chit-chat by the author, who doesn’t seem to be a specially gifted writer. I think a more correct description is a little bit of trivia about Witten.

  11. Peter Woit says:

    In defense of Chalmers, I know a large number of science writers who have tried unsuccessfully to get a comment out of Witten about the “String Wars”. He’s the first one I know of to have any success at all with that…

  12. Shantanu says:

    Peter, I agree with Andrei. If LHC keeps getting delayed, it will be hard to attract grad. students (and postdocs) towards it as they need data for their thesis and no one likes their Phds to get extended and that is not a good sign.
    These grad students would gravitate towards particle astrophysics, neutrino physics or cosmology instead of LHC.

  13. Shantanu says:

    Peter, while looking at CERN site found these acadameic training lectures on “String theory for pedestrians”
    Have you seen it? any comments?

  14. Pingback: LHC On Schedule « Not Even Wrong

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