Atom smasher catches 1st high-energy collisions

December 9, 2009 By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS , Associated Press Writer
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

(AP) -- The world's largest atom smasher has recorded its first high-energy collisions of protons, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Physicists hope those collisions will help them understand suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorize occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

The collisions occurred Tuesday evening as the Large Haldron Collider underwent test runs in preparation for operations next year, said Christine Sutton of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or .

Two beams of circulating particles traveling in opposite directions at 1.18 trillion electron volts produced the collisions, she said. The Atlas "experiment," one of four major detectors in cathedral-sized rooms in the collider's underground tunnel at Geneva, had part of its equipment turned on and could register collisions.

"They recorded a handful of collisions, and one of them looks quite nice, so it's on their Web site," she said.

Sutton said the collisions occurred when the machine was ramped up briefly to 1.18 TeV. That same level set a world record for acceleration in November, when Geneva's particle beams traveled with 20 percent more power than Fermilab near Chicago, which previously held the record.

The operators plan many more collisions at lower energies so the experiments can calibrate their equipment and prepare for more advances ahead.

CERN then plans more collisions at 1.18 TeV to give all experiments the opportunity to record data at that level, but new scientific discoveries are not expected before next year when the beams are ramped up still higher, to 3.5 TeV.

That will be 3.5 times more energy that has been reached at Fermilab, previously the most powerful collider.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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3.2 / 5 (9) Dec 09, 2009
"The world's largest atom smasher has recorded its first high-energy collisions of protons."

Protons are not atoms. I don't cherish the thought of having another discussion on physorg about this, but the LHC is not an atom smasher, it is a particle accelerator (or, alternatively, a particle collider). "Atom smasher" is a sloppy, amateurish expression used by the mainstream media.

For those who again want to contest my view, which I pre-empted myself by pointing out that the LHC can also collide lead-nuclei, remember that an atom stripped of its electrons is merely radiation. It's just another example of the media treating the public like fools, because they think that dumbing down the science will somehow make it more digestible, even though all this does it misinform. The basic facts do matter - how can a person appreciate a thing when they are not certain precisely what it is they are appreciating?
4 / 5 (7) Dec 09, 2009
Sorry I do not agree:

- An atom stripped of one or more electrons is an "ion".

- Ions are a special kind of atoms.

- A standard Hydrogen atom stripped of its electron is a single proton, but it is also an Ion.

Then, a single proton can also be kind of atom.
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 09, 2009

I was not referring to an atom with only some of its electrons removed. I was referring to a nucleus, such as a helium nucleus, which has no valence electrons left at all. You may well know that we call helium nuclei alpha radiation. They are not atoms. Ions are not a kind of atom, and these extreme types of ions such as lead nuclei are all the more so not. An atom is an electrically neutral entity; ions are not.

Likewise with positively charged protons. Protons do not have the properties of atoms (although they share some properties with ions, and yes they are identical to hydrogen ions). For example, unlike atoms they can be deflected by an electric or magnetic field. This is what makes them useful in particle accelerators. Atoms do not behave like this. Sometimes atoms can even clump together into weird bosonic states. I have a degree in chemistry and I'm doing a PhD in theoretical physics; with respect, you don't need to tell me what an ion is.
4 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2009
I wouldn't say that an ions are a special kind of atoms. It is just something different. In science it is important to be precice, the words do not exist just for fun. This is a matter of definition, atoms have to be electrically neutral. And as javjav explains, they also have very different properties.
However, I don't completely understand javjav's argumentation. Protons can be deflected by electric and magnetic fields, but this can be done with all other charged particles like ions as well. Whether all of their electrons or only some were removed, does not change this fact. And that some nucleis can be called radiation, does not change anything, it is just another name for the same thing.

To simply this discussion, let's just call it the Large Hadron Collider. This name says already everything.

Sorry, I have no title at all. I am just an ordinary student during his last years of school in Germany (this explains the mistakes), who is interested in physics.
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2009
Hi michaelick, don't worry it's not about titles, it's about basic knowledge. I completely agree that for science to have meaning, the words we use must be precisely defined.

This is why any well-respected physics or chemistry book will, in any discussion about ions, only refer to atoms when referring to their origin and definition- if they say an ion is "an atom with an electron removed", this is badly worded. After the basic definition have given sufficient respect to their origins, the author will never refer to anions or cations as "atoms" in the ensuing discussion. Of course you have to have a decent textbook. Suffice it to say, take a look at any university website discussing the LHC and they will refer to it as the world's largest particle accelerator.

All things said and done, there is one remaining thing which puzzles me. Why are some people so intent at holding onto the tacky and cheap expression "atom smasher", event to the point of trying to change basic definitions?
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 09, 2009
Because it's got electrolytes.
not rated yet Dec 09, 2009
Maybe if we all pay for the subscription to the new that has to pay a professional scientific literary analysis editor on full-time, then we can rattle our unquenchable and definitive bitching chains.
Otherwise, I like to take what I can get, read the textbooks that are my source of scientific definition, and not bite the hand that feeds me. Not every journalist reporting about science has written a textbook or published a paper; had they, I'd have less instant gratification and more competition in graduate school.
Also, if you always equate media to facts, you're obviously taking the easy way out.
5 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2009
Maybe people feel like saying the word "proton collider" or "particle accelerator" makes them sound too geeky? For an uneducated person, who doesn't know what a proton is, "atom smasher" is the phrase they are most likely to understand.

As a physics major in college, I'd like to voice my opinion that the difference between an atom and an ion seems like an issue of degree: a +1 helium atom is more ion-like than for example a +1 uranium ion. After all, the unit charge per mass ratio is +1q/4m versus +1q/238m. So the acceleration of the former in an electric field will be far greater than the acceleration of the latter.

CptWozza, what would you say in response to this? I'm open to any comments you might make.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2009
"An ion is an atom or molecule where the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons"

Then, an ion is also an atom (or a molecule in other cases). By definition.

I do not need any chemistry degree to know it, it is studied in the school. If you need long paragraphs and talks about your degree titles in order to discuss such a simple thing.. it is because your arguments are too weak.

1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 09, 2009
Nobody gets a physics degree by reading wikipedia (it is written by the kind of people who post here), and more importantly, I addressed this issue about the use of the word atom in the definition of ion earlier (you obviously did not read my response). In any case, the wikipedia entry is poorly worded. It is not about slapping anyone over the head with degree titles, it is about knowing the basic facts. An ion is not an atom - an atom is electrically neutral. I must say it is disappointing that you felt the need to refer to an unreliable resource in order to "prove" your incorrect point.

@axemaster, I agree that a +1 helium ion is more "ion like" than a +1 uranium ion, and having a much higher charge to mass ratio it will be deflected more substantially by an electric field. However one of the defining characteristics of an atom is its neutrality. There is a spectrum of "strength" of ion but atoms do not occupy this spectrum at all - they are different.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2009
@Mr Frontier
You're obviously the author of this article. Why does everyone start sucking their thumb when their ignorance is pointed out? The cry that "not everyone can have a PhD" is a nice excuse, but the point is that you don't have to have a PhD or even a degree, you just need to be in possession of a few of the basic facts, that's all. Despite the wikipedia entry which is unfortunately misleading, it's simply untrue that ions are atoms. Protons certainly aren't.

If in doubt, leave it out. Call it a particle accelerator; it sounds better anyway. The problem is that the "doubt" was never there in the first place.
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2009
One final point. You suggest that people will struggle to know what a proton is. Frankly if they don't know what a proton is, they probably don't know what an atom is either. You should, however, give people more credit that this.

People are smarter than you think. It's not too difficult to learn the difference between an atom and a subatomic particle, and many people already know this. It's simply awful to suggest that the uneducated "masses" are too dumb to understand, or would feel geeky. As a scientist, "atom smasher" makes me cringe. I will not back down over this.
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2009
Cptwozza you need to quiet the hell down. Your main basis of the comment thread in itself is completely pointless. I've had a PhD in Physics for years - and for some reason it seems to be fashionable to mention that here.
2.6 / 5 (15) Dec 09, 2009
What's the freaking point of defining an atom as electrically neutral? Why can't an atom simply be defined as a proton, or any collection of protons and neutrons, held together by the weak nuclear force, most often accompanied by any number of electrons or no electrons at all? If you insist that atoms be electrically neutral, that would mean a pure salt crystal isn't made of atoms.

Alpha radiation was discovered and named before any approximately modern notion of the atom was at play in science. It's silly to hold to archaic names given to phenomena discovered in primitive experiments when modern understanding supersedes it. As you say, we now know alpha particles to be the nucleus of the helium atom, so it makes perfect sense if we were bombarding a target with alpha radiation to say that we're shooting +2 helium atoms at it.
3 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2009
One definition of 'atom' is a tiny particle. Misleading in the physics world, but these people are reporters, not scientists. Cut them some slack.
4 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2009
I agree with you in principle regarding the factual difference between the terms "atom smasher" and "particle accelerator", but I think that you may be making too much of it. The English language is jam-packed with misnomers and slang; and while you are right-there is a real difference between the two machines- you might just as well take issue with the use of the term "dolphin" when incorrectly applied to a porpoise, which is your right, of course. For myself, at least, both Atom Smasher and Dolphin are much more evocative terms. But, ultimately,
anyone with more than just idle curiosity can easily discover the correct usage -and should.
That's a big part of the fun.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2009
From where are you taking your definition of 'atom'? As far as I know, the term comes from greek 'átomos' (indivisible) and in modern language the definition could be translated to something like "basic unit of matter, that cannot be divided further by any chemical reaction". I have never heard before that atom has to be neutral, or that ion is not an atom. Sure, you are right that using the term 'atom' for the proton or lead nucleus is not really precise, but that's all, in my humble opinion it's not wrong. Try to say any chemistry student/teacher that H+ (proton) is NOT an atom and all you probably get will be laughter.
4 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2009
When talking about "atom smasher", the discussion should not be related with the word "atom" (ions are atoms or molecules, by definition, it is not something that we can discuss). What can be discussed is the use of the word "smasher", which does not sound very scientific. But if we accept scientific terms like "dark energy", "charm" particles, and properties like "colours", "flavours" for subatomic particles, "spooky action at a disctance..." then we should also accept "atom smasher" appearing in a scientific text, my friend.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2009
No I don't need to "quiet the hell down". Protons are not atoms, try to get over it. I regret raising the fact that I'm doing a PhD since it seems to have gotten people's knickers in a right twist. I think that people's knowledge is more important than their qualifications. If you actually do understand physics then you'll be equally uncomfortable with the phrase atom smasher.

All these people trying to make their own definitions of what an atom is (something small, any charge) are just pandering to populist rubbish, and do not realise that by allowing something to have any meaning it loses all meaning. I am not making a mountain out of a molehill. Protons are NOT atoms, they are subatomic particles. End of story, really. It's a shame that you all used this for populist anti-intellectual bashing - on a physics site of all places.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 10, 2009
Do I really have to repeat myself? "From where are you taking your definition of 'atom'?" What is your definition of 'ion' if not '_atom_ with some of its electrons removed'?

IMHO it's all about the level of precision you want to phrase your statement with, you can use 'atom' (basic unit of matter, that cannot be divided further by any chemical reaction), or 'ion' (atom with some of its electrons removed), or 'nucleus' (all electrons removed), or 'hydrogen nucleus', or even narrower 'proton', but you can also use more general term 'matter' - all of them are well-defined scientific terms, some of them have just narrower meaning than the others.
Dec 10, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2009
..That will be 3.5 times more energy that has been reached at Fermilab..
Things like Higgs boson (dilepton channel of top-quark decay) and supersymmetry (pentaquark, tetraneutron, quarkonium and gluonium thingies) were observed already patiently on Hera and Tevatron accelerators during last five years. The increasing of energy density in one third of magnitude order just shortens the time required for detection of these phenomena from years to weeks, so we shouldn't expect completely new findings during next year - rather confirmation of previous experiments.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2009
Thrasymachus has already said most of what I had to say.

Further, it's always possible to make new words or change the usage of existing terms. It happens all the time. As Thrasymachus said, the notion of 'radiation' existed before people had half a clue what was going on. I remember being surprised/confused to find so many disparate phenomena being called by the same name while first learning about fission. For me, the terminology seems to hint at more which is not yet understood, but it's just a false lead. Personally, I'd prefer to take a chance with some revised terminology to save all future generations from the same questions.

As for taking a hard stance on the 'proper' meaning of terms.. You should feel free to define things in the way that you feel is appropriate. Please have the decency to allow others to do the same, so long as they have the patience to explain.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2009
"many theorize occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang"

Is this for real? Who the hell thinks the Big Bang was an explosion?
1 / 5 (1) Dec 11, 2009
As far as I know, the term comes from greek 'atomos' (indivisible)
To be precise, the Greek word is "atomo" which BTW usually (in colloquial Greek) means "person". The "a" stands for "without", "tomi" for "cut", and the "o" is just a suffix (replacing the eta) for neutral substantives. Don't confuse "tomi" with "tomos" (ribbon, tape).
not rated yet Dec 12, 2009

All these people trying to make their own definitions of what an atom is (something small, any charge) are just pandering to populist rubbish, and do not realise that by allowing something to have any meaning it loses all meaning. I am not making a mountain out of a molehill. Protons are NOT atoms, they are subatomic particles. End of story, really. It's a shame that you all used this for populist anti-intellectual bashing - on a physics site of all places.

"Protons are NOT atoms, they are subatomic particles."

What he said. Its pretty simple. And sometimes you have to think for yourself to understand the divisions between energies in an atom and its constituent subatomic particles.
Popular media has made a mess out of it.
not rated yet Dec 13, 2009
Of course, this is all academic - the LHC is a gluon collider. That is, the dominant process for high p_T collisions is gluon fusion. The Tevatron was a quark-gluon collider.
not rated yet Dec 14, 2009
It's got what particles crave.

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