Saturday, August 27, 2005

Let us build the ILC

The purpose of this page is not to explain things like which two European countries shared the LEP collider. Incidentally it is either South Africa and Nigeria, or France and the Supersymmetric Republic of Switzerland, or Australia and New Zealand, or Peru and Chile.

JoAnne Hewett has encouraged everyone to promote the ILC, the "Imaginary Linear Collider", as our phenomenological friends call it. It is a pleasure to follow her instructions. My comments are primarily addressed to the true American patriots who, I hope, are well represented among the readers. :-)

In 2007, a new collider called the LHC - the "Large Hadron Collider" - will start at CERN, Switzerland. I mean the old, socialist, and stagnating continent called Europe. It should discover some kind of Higgs - which is incidentally the "God Particle" - and perhaps some kind of supersymmetry - which is a symmetry relating SuperMen and SuperMenino - which would be really cool; for example, I would win a $1000 bet which will otherwise be lost.

The LHC is being built in the same 27-kilometer-long tunnel (in circumference) in which the lepton machine called LEP ("Lot of Extra Problems", later also called "Large Electron-Positron" collider) operated in 1999-2000 and nearly discovered the Higgs particle around 115 GeV, the current lower bound for its mass. By the way, CERN has previously found the W and Z bosons in 1983. All good physicists at that time already knew that the bosons would be there - and some of them had already been enjoying their Nobel prizes for the right theory predicting them since 1979.

You may notice that these colliders, i.e. particle accelerators (atom smashers) in which the particles collide to create a lot of new stuff (sometimes even interesting stuff), belong to two basic types:
  • circular colliders in which the particles orbit many times and the centrifugal force - more precisely the synchrotron radiation that also occurs for nonzero acceleration of charged particles - is the main enemy of our attempts to accelerate it too much (LEP, LHC, Tevatron); very strong magnets are needed which is why the ambitious visionaries used to think about the superconducting magnets
  • linear colliders in which the centrifugal force is absent, but the particles only fly once and therefore the linear tunnel must be very long (SLAC in California, ILC) and the electric fields must be strong

There is one more important classification - according to the particles they collide:

  • hadron machines (protons and perhaps antiprotons): Tevatron in Fermilab, Illinois collides protons off antiprotons; LHC will collide two beams of protons
  • lepton machines (electrons and positrons): LEP, SLAC, ILC; in principle, one could also collide heavier muons, but no such accelerator has been built and it could also emit too many unhealthy highly-energetic neutrinos from the unstable muons

The advantage of the hadron machines, such as the LHC in 2007, is that the heavy hadrons can carry a lot of energy if the velocity is the same, for example. Their disadvantage is that the hadrons contain a lot of glue and other chromodynamic dirt. Whatever you produce is therefore chromodynamically dirty and hard to identify and measure. The lepton machines, on the other hand, have some problems with getting really huge energies, but their collisions are very clean. An electron annihilates with the positron to a "pure energy" (imagine a virtual photon) which is subsequently used by mother Nature to produce virtually anything.

Neither technology is universally superior over the other; physicists tend to alternate the approaches as they raise the energy, in order to get complementary information.

The power of America

Currently the Tevatron in Fermilab, Illinois and SLAC in California are running in the U.S. In 2007, the European LHC may become the only active collider in the world; SLAC is almost sure to be shut down pretty soon. That could be as painful for America as Yuri Gagarin, especially if interesting new discoveries are made by the LHC.

This paragraph is really addressed to the true U.S. patriots: the U.S. could have been ahead by a lot because the SSC - the "Superconducting SuperCollider" - a 80-kilometer long circle - was being built by the nice, scientifically oriented Republicans. The collider was invented and proposed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and continuing huge support was later led by the President Bush Sr., despite the fact that the communism was already gone, who claimed Texas as the new home for "his" SSC. (His son, George W. Bush, is also a pretty big shot in particle physics.) However, the evil anti-scientific, mostly democratic Democratic U.S. Congress later stopped the project after 2 billion dollars (about 20 percent) were already spent. Bill Clinton and Al Gore had different priorities in science, for example, the second guy wanted to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to cool the planet. ;-)

The Democrats will never tell you that the SSC was a project of Reagan and Bush Sr. and was killed once Clinton and Gore started. Most of the more recent frustration in particle physics may be attributed to the decisions in 1992 and 1993.

Whenever you will hear the bitter criticism against the string theorists or even supersymmetry phenomenologists that they are just too smart and 15 years ahead of the experiments, don't forget that it is not their fault. It is the Democrats' fault that experimental particle physics was slowed down for 15 years. ;-)

Even if the LHC is successful, the chromodynamic mud will prevent us from learning many details efficiently, or at least from measuring them accurately. This is why the ILC - which would become the "International Linear Collider" and the word "International" should really mean "Mostly American" - is needed. ILC would be a clean lepton machine where everything is nice and the desired products are produced without any garbage around.

For a couple of years, the particle physicists may be secretly afraid of bad luck. But be sure that if the LHC sees something really new, beyond the single Higgs boson, whatever it is, every other intelligent American will ask "How is it possible that Europe is ahead in these crucial discoveries?" Maybe you should already ask the question now...

Unless there is some inconsistency in mathematics, the LHC will have to discover something new that has not been yet. Something like the Higgs - the "God Particle" that transforms massless spirits into massive objects and particles. (Genesis: Let there be light in the form of the unbroken "U(1)" part of the "U(1) x SU(2)". And God realized that light was good and the Higgs mechanism was necessary.) While most physicists have already counted the Higgs as a "sure to be discovered" particle, this time we don't know what its mass will be.

The God Particle also gives mass to Himself (or the Jesus particle, if you wish) - by self-interactions - but we don't know how much He interacts with Himself although we know that His four-God coupling should be less than one or so. One of the additional magic tricks He uses to give Himself mass is to change Himself into a pair of an object and an antiobject for a while - which would typically lead to a huge mass of God, comparable to the mass of a dust particle (the so-called Planck scale). The puzzle why God is much lighter than the dust - which He apparently has to be if He is omnipotent and able to give mass to others - is called the hierarchy problem. The most popular solution still says that for each object and anti-object that are used for Him to get extra mass, there are new objects, the superpartners, for which the contribution is exactly opposite: that's called the supersymmetry. Also, I was cheating a bit: most of the mass of humans actually does not come directly from God and the humans are not as holy as I suggested; we are sinners and most of our mass comes from the chromodynamic mud. :-) Maybe, the non-physicists won't understand why this story is true, but others may assure them that it is true.

So the discovery of the Higgs will be a bit exciting anyway. But yes, if this is the only thing around, the ILC could be a bad investment. However, many of us expect more; much more.

An extra comment for all scientifically oriented billionaires who read this sentence: you may pay for the project and I will help you to negotiate that the collider will be named after you. If you pay for the whole thing, I will also help you to create new terminology of the superpartners for the case that they're seen. ;-) I don't expect that a new SLC - "Soros' Linear Collider" - will be built because the person is not sufficiently high-brow for such a project, but someone else could have different standards and more cultivated dreams.

And a special message for those string theorists who think that physics of colliders is their competitor and they don't want to support it. Forget it. We are one field with the phenomenologists. We clearly need progress in experimental particle physics because it helps us to choose the right questions and it creates excitement in the whole high-energy physics. Our colleague Quantoken has even figured out that it is really us for whom the new colliders are being built: the "super string theoretists". Roughly speaking, he believes that the purpose of the colliders is to increase the price of oil from $68 to $100 (the price dictated by Osama bin Laden).


  1. Lubos:

    As I point out on Cosmic Variance, the exponential growth of accelerators is simply not sustainable. It ends at certain point, which we are pretty near. Whether it ends at LHC, or one more generation after LHC, makes no fundamental difference.

    Now, depletion of the earth's resources is certainly not caused by LHC, ILC or any big science big money spending. But it a fact nevertheless, a painfully obvious one.

    A good scientist is very sensitive to anything he/she observes, and thinks about it and draw conclusions. Others will just walk by the evidences and not even seeing it. Oil price is pinching every one, Lubos, when you see the gasoline price near $3 a gallon, do you think only about your wallet?

    I hope petroleum price can stop at $100 a barrel, Lubos. But unfortunately it won't. It's on a spiral up and accelelating upward, first slowly, then getting ever quicker its upward trend, until the last drop of oils is depleted. This is happening and the spiral started for two years by now. The day that we see oil price go up and expect it to go down eventually, is GONE! It could only ever go up more, and any downward trend is only temporary fluctuation, until we can't afford to drive any cars.

    Do you belong to the mid century establishment camp which believed the earth is flat, extend infinitely, and has infinite amount of resource buried underneath. Or do you think it is a crackpot theory that the earth is round, small, limited in size, and its resources are depleting very quickly?

    I wonder why no one is even interested in discussing this? Oh I forget, Lubos you live in a small apartment, walk to campus and do not own a car. So you think this has nothing to do with you?


  2. Dear Quantoken,

    I am familiar with the fact that the oil reserves are finite. That does not prevent us from using oil because oil is useful for many segments of the current economy.

    When oil is nearly gone, its price will increase. Since I came to the U.S. for the first time, the price of gazoline jumped three-fold. Obviously, it did not kill anyone.

    Once oil starts to disappear visibly, it will not only reduce consumption but also stimulate various kinds of research to find alternatives. At some moments, the alternatives will become cheaper and will start to grow.

    I am not afraid of the people in the future. And I don't think that looking for replacements of oil is as pure research as high energy theoretical physics; and it requires pretty different skills.

    And even from a purely economical perspective, I am not sure whether looking for replacement for oil is the hottest thing in business. It's of course one of the programs that will be gaining prominence in the near future, but are they already hot today? Not sure.

    Even the $100+ price of oil per barrel won't mean a death of civilization. Moreover, many alternatives already exist and they will get better as time goes. For example, one can create oil for $15 per barrel from turkey guts. Then you have various hybrid cars; new sources of electricity, and so forth.

    I just think that these things enjoy as much attention as they should.


  3. Lubos:
    You never bother to calculate anything, do you?
    At world consumption of oil at 30 billion barrel per year, how many turkeys would you have to slaughter per year to produce enough turkey guts based fuel?
    One barrel is 115.6 liter> Let's say one liter is about one kilogram. And you need 10 turkeys to create one kilogram guts based fuel. That would be roughly 3.5x10^13 turkeys per year. i.e., 35 trillion turkeys per year. 6000 times higher than human population. We hardly have enough food to feed every human being on this planet, how do you manage to feed 6000 times more turkeys?

    The official world wide petroleum reserve underground is 1.2 trillion barrel, and at 30 billion barrel per year consumption rate, it's totally gone in just 40 short years. And you've got to realize that the reserve figure is cooked number due to political and economical reasons. The real figure is no more than 50% or 60% of the official figure. So we are talking about the oil can last another 20 to 25 years.

    Alternative energy source? There are plenty alternatives but NONE provide anything remotely close to the amount of energy we are consuming in the form of fossil oil.

    Thermo nuclear fusion? The research had been going on for 50 years with little success. It needs at least 50 more years before it can be successful, and more time before it becomes practical. We don't have the time. Besides we probably end up spend more energy to extract the useful isotope from sea water, than what we can get out of it, due to the low concentration and difficulty in extracting isotopes.

    And don't assume that we can have 20 or 30 more peace and prosperious lifestyle based on abundance of fossil fuel, before it all runs out. The crisis does NOT wait until the last drop of oil is drawn!!!

    The point is if you are the leader of any of the couple hundred big or small countries in the world, and knowing full well the oil is coming to an end pretty soon, and there is no replacement in sight. What would you do? Sit and wait 40 years, until it is too late?

    NO! The key word is national strategic petroleum reserve!!! Uncle Sam has been doing it quietly for decades, and so are a few other countries. The dumber countries are also waking up recently to the reality. And finally, in the year 2005, it has now become an open secret and even the dumbest of the dumbest national leaders all suddenly find the vital survival need to store some petroleum for rainy days.

    Isn't it, Lubos? All of a sudden virtually every country of any decent size are talking about national strategic petroleum reserve now, and they are paying any price to desperately buy any thing that's available. And I expect that at some point, the Saudis would say: Wait a minute, why would we sell the oil at cheap price to every one else, and not leave some for our own rainy day? We've got to cur export by 90% and keep it for ourselves. Imagine what will happen?

    So, look out, $68 a barrel or even $100 a barrel is just a beginning. The much worse is going to going, very quicly, and it could even get much worse.

    Do not assume that you are OK since you do not own a car. The kind of comfortable life you took for granted, you walk to any grocery store and pull off a few dollar bills and you can buy whatever you need to eat and consume for the day, such a lifestyle that every one takes for so granted, will be gone! There simply will not be massive transportation any more to sustain lifelines of big cities. Be prepared to plant potatoes in your backyard, and the only fertilize you can get would be your own human waste. The future is groomy.



  4. Quote:
    "American needs a national energy policy and a program on a scale of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II to prevent or mitigate the consequences of global peak oil. To avoid a really bumpy ride, what we need to do is dramatically reduce our consumption. The cheapest oil is oil we don’t use. Second, we need to invest in greater energy efficiency. Third, we have to invest our limited resources of time and current energy sources to make rapid advances in the development of alternative, renewable sources of energy."

    Forget about any other big money big sciences. We can't afford anything but concentrate to work on the alternative energy source.

  5. How is the world reserve number cooked? See this:

    "Underpinning all of Campbell's, and Aspo's, work is the lack of transparency in the world's oil data. Campbell drew attention to the way in which members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) "revised" their reserve figures in the 1980s, and said that it is incredible that this "flawed data" is still being used today. He highlighted the example of Kuwait, which scrubbed its previous figures in 1985. Overnight, its reserves went from 64bn barrels to 92bn barrels. As Opec allows production quotas tied to stated reserves, this allowed Kuwait to pump more oil and immediately make a lot more money.

    Campbell showed how, two years later, the other countries in Opec, outflanked by Kuwait's sudden action, followed suit. The United Arab Emirates went from 31bn barrels to 92bn barrels. "Then came Iran," said Campbell. It declared its reserves had increased, but went one better, going from 47bn barrels to 93bn. "And what of Iraq?" added Campbell. "Saddam, as we all know, had some pretty strong views on things, so he decided to come in at a round 100." Its previously stated reserves were 47bn barrels.

    Some 18 to 20 years later, these numbers remain unchanged. This despite the United Arab Emirates, for instance, pumping millions of barrels every week since the day it flipped its figures."

    We don't have 40 more years of oil, people! We probably have just 20 to 25 more years. And 2005 is the crisis year! The gasoline price is not just a pinch!!!


  6. Somewhat off topic Quantoken but you are correct. It is rare to hear from someone who is acutely aware of this frightening problem.
    It looks like it might be a classic case of the boiled frog syndrome. Most people seem totally oblivious to the colossal amounts of energy our global industrial economy consumes, especially the amount of oil we are using. And the demand for energy can only grow especially as China grows economically. But the earth is a closed finite system and entropy consumes gets you in the end. Entropy is a concept the average person does not seem to understand at all. Even if we can perfect alternative sources it would still only cover a tiny fraction of what we are currently using.

    Incidently, you may be interested in the books: "The Party's Over:Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies", by Richard Heinberg, and "Hubbert's Peak:The Impending World Oil Shortage".

    Our entire global civilisation is totally hard wired to oil. Modern mass agricultural methods, which are required to feed billions, depend on petroleum-based products, like fertilisers. The harvesting and transportation of this food also requires oil. Next time you are in a supermarket check where everything comes from--
    to fly it all its destinations all over the globe takes jet kerosene. All chemistry and chemical engineering depends crucially on petroleum-based materials as the starting point. The plastic bag you carry your shopping home in also came from oil. You can also forget nonsense like "hydrogen cars" since it takes more energy to create the hydrogen in the first place. The books cover these issues in detail. (Incidently, gas station owners all over the US are already reporting verbal and physical abuse from the public just with a slight rise in prices.)

    While I support big science projects they sometimes seem like the statue building on Easter Island, with the inhabitants of that tragic place putting all their energy and time into these ultimately pointless, albeit impressive, creations while their enviroment ran out of resources and the ability to sustain life before collapsing into total chaos.

    I don't want to be totally pessimistic but we need to wake up now to this problem. We need to tackle it while we still have the energy and resources to do so.