Science  05 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5894, pp. 1277

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  1. LHC


    The world's most expensive particle physics experiment will get under way on 10 September when CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes online (see p. 1291). Thousands will be watching as the first beams of protons are sent through the collider. But the search for the Higgs boson also has a human side. Here are a few of their stories.

    So, on the big day, who will be sitting in the Captain Kirk chair ready to push the start button? Roger Bailey, head of the beam commissioning team, isn't letting on. “It'll be me or one or two colleagues,” he says. “We'll decide over the next couple of days.”


    Bailey has assembled a 30-person team that will operate the accelerator round the clock over the next few months in hopes of ironing out the kinks that come with the first collisions. “It's going to be pretty stressful between now and Christmas,” he says.

    Bailey was there in the control room in 1989 at the opening bell for CERN's previous big machine, the Large Electron-Positron collider. “Half the lab was crammed in there,” he recalls. His goal for 10 September is clear, if not simple: Get streams of protons to circumnavigate both rings. “If we can do that, we'll know we have something we can work with.”

    If the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) reveals the Higgs boson—the famed God particle—then CERN officials have a detailed protocol to announce the discovery at a specially convened seminar. However, CERN spokesperson James Gillies concedes that word will probably leak out prematurely. “People are excited about [LHC], and they want to talk,” he says. “I think it's pretty likely that if there's solid evidence of the Higgs, it will come out.” Still, Tejinder “Jim” Virdee, leader of the team working with the massive CMS particle detector, says that he expects his collaborators—all 2900 of them—“to follow the protocol, no ifs or buts.”


    Three European scientists last week received honors for their efforts to communicate science to the public. Chris Smith, a virology lecturer at the University of Cambridge, U.K., received the Royal Society's $4500 Kohn award for his popular radio show, The Naked Scientists, which aims to “strip science down to its bare essentials” through interviews with researchers. Evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer of the University of Konstanz, Germany, took home $7300 as winner of the European Molecular Biology Organization's (EMBO's) annual communications award for his articles in mainstream newspapers and magazines and his radio and television appearances. EMBO also awarded a special prize of $4700 to another successful science communicator: zoologist Jürgen Tautz of the University of Würzburg, Germany, who authored a popular book on honey bees last year.


    “Science, science, science, and science.”

    —House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), at a 26 August breakfast meeting during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, when asked about her plans for the first 100 days if Barack Obama is elected president. A spokesperson says the speaker's “innovation agenda” also includes “21st century jobs and biomedical research.”

  4. Q&A


    Three months after the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is turned on, former CERN particle physicist Rolf-Dieter Heuer will rejoin the lab as its new director general. Currently research director for particle and astroparticle physics at DESY, Germany's particle physics lab in Hamburg, Heuer says that it's time for CERN “to change back to analysis mode” after spending more than a decade building the $5.5 billion machine.

    Q: CERN still has debts to repay on the LHC. What will be their impact?

    [Repayments] will certainly limit our activities, but after 2010–11 we will have some maneuvering space to fund new initiatives.

    Q: Will these include non-LHC areas, such as antimatter and neutrino physics, that were scaled down during construction?

    These have continued on a minimal level, but we do need to maintain diversity. If I want to ramp these up, proposals must be scientifically high-class. One should be able to convince funding agencies.

    Q: Funders seem cool about pushing ahead with the International Linear Collider. Would a delay give CERN's emerging CLIC accelerator technology a new opportunity over the design already on the table?

    Between 2010 and 2012, the LHC will tell us the next energy range of interest. Once we know the energy range, we can decide on which technology.

    Q: Should countries such as the United States and Japan, which don't pay for the collider or for operating costs, start paying a share of CERN's annual running expenses?

    There has to be a discussion of the role of CERN as a European lab in a global partnership, and the issue of contributions will come up naturally. We must be proactive: Already next year, we should start to define how that partnership would look.