Tuesday, 30 March 2010

LHC cam

Just one more post.  Then I go nurse my head:


LHC Hooray

The beams are up to power, they're aligned together, waiting for them to become stable...

It's astonishing that the two beams of protons were separated by only 3mm around the 27km ring, before they reached 3.5TeV each and were brought together in grand 7TeV collisions.

Now there are collisions but the experiments aren't switched on and the beams aren't stable.  They're waiting until everything's perfectly aligned and stable before they insert protective collimators (in case something goes astray) and open the delicate detectors.

Collimators in, beams tidied, and now they're happy with the beam conditions they're going to declare it 'stable' and not touch any of the beam controls for as long as they can - they estimate 2 hours

Collisions!  Data!  Jubilation! 

The data already being recieved are being described as 'beautiful' - I can't wait to see more, and perhaps to learn how to 'read' the image records.  The webcast has included live collision record images from the ATLAS experiment, which I'll admit are pretty snazzy looking. 

It's wonderful to see and hear the celebration and enthusiasm of such an incredible communal endeavour coming together. 

Unfortunately my head hurts too much now so I'm going to have to stop writing and just listen to the 'cast.  More later!

LHC Restart - live webcast

I wonder just how many people across the world are watching this feed with me:

There have been a couple of glitches in the cooling and monitoring systems, but nothing catastrophic so far, and the system is now being brought up to speed again.  While everyone is waiting for the beams to reach the required energies again, some talking heads are discussing what the LHC is looking for and how.  It's fun spotting people I've dealt with through my work:  Ooh, they're on the editorial board, ooh, that was that nice guy who published with us last year!

It's so exciting.  I just wish I wasn't the only physics-educated geek in a building full of biologists and medics...  Oh, and that I had some popcorn.

Edit:  Great, now I have my second only ever migrane precursor sparkly vision artifacts.  They're very pretty, but they're interfering with my webcast watching, damnit!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Be still my nerdy heart: LHC pop-up book

 Atlas detector - complete it yourself, but try and take less than 25 years...

As a massive physics and papercraft geek, this announcement had me swooning: an LHC pop-up book.  Entitled Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN, it explores through paper engineering the motivation, construction and operation of part of the world's biggest experiment.

Not just mega-science, but mega-engineering

To quote the press release,
"In this unique collaboration between ATLAS and renowned paper engineer Anton Radevsky, 7000 tonnes of metal, glass, plastic, cables and computer chips leap from the page in miniature pop-up, to tell the story of CERN’s quest to understand the birth of the universe."
I'm really excited by the immediacy and spatial understanding that comes from the use of physical models to represent concepts, and a pop-up book is a fantastically portable way of bringing to the grubby paws of the masses.
 The book goes back to the big bang to explain the experiment's motivations
I've always adored pop-up books.  Needless to say, I'm drooling over this one.

Sold out at the publisher here, but in stock with Amazon here.

Exploring digital worlds

I just read another interesting post over on Cocktail Party Physics, this time talking about MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft as models for human behaviour in the face of epidemic or economic crises.  Knowing several WoW-heads myself, I find the headspace it occupies interesting, including its carefully engineered addictiveness. 

However, what buzzed me was the mention of educational games.  I recall playing a few when I was younger, including the non-taxing (piloting a dolphin around an underwater reef, solving simple sums before it ran out of air), the entertaining but limited (completing equations to zap alien rubbish, avoid asteroids and navigate space stations), and the wickedly catchy (a kiddie's colour, number, and shape recognition complete with insidous earworms, with my little brother you understand).  I even wrote a tiny  times-table practice tool in True Basic.

Though not really targeted as a game, I can't recommend highly enough the magnificent Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.  Perhaps you've got to be a special kind of nerd to enjoy racing cars by typing quickly and accurately, but it was better than school typing lessons.  Accuracy at over >70wpm is an indispensable skill - I can actually type faster than write, with the added advantage of legibility!  I just wish my brother had played it too, perhaps I'd be able to talk to him online without wincing.

The increasing use of physics simulations (crayon physics, little big planet and the rest) is fantastically exciting, especially when experiments are increasingly restricted in schools, but as mentioned in the Cocktail Physics article the use of online community-building techniques and mobile technology could lead to a new generation of engaging science games.  As a case in point, Whyville looks very cool - I love the sound of kids actually investigating an infection of "Whypox" themselves. 

One of our journals recently published a piece on the use of Second Life as a visualisation, research and educational tool.  According to the reviewer reports its contribution to science was slightly debatable, but it's certainly an interesting conceit.  Alas, not having played with any such online worlds I can't really conjecture on its effectiveness or how it might be improved. 

Still, I really hope a game developer mashes all these ideas together and runs with them, creating a freely roamable world complete with intriguing tableau, enlightening encounters and a culture of exploration and learning. With an element of user-contributed content and community building, just think of what would be available to someone with an internet connection - a world of information not just presented in bite-sized chunks, but integrated into an engaging framework that rewards curiosity and reinforces enquiring habits.  It's so much more satisfying to find things out for yourself!