World’s biggest particle collider smashes data record


We’ll have to take physicists’ word for it that “one inverse femtobarn” is a lot. That’s the milestone recently reached by the world’s largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider.


Inside the circular machine, which is buried 574 feet (175 meters) underground near Geneva, Switzerland, scientists accelerate protons to speeds approaching that of light, and then crash them into each other to produce energetic wrecks that can give rise to new and exotic particles.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN physics lab began operating in 2008, and has been ramping up its power levels and the intensity of its particle beams. Today (June 17) at 4:50 a.m. ET (10:50 a.m. local time), the amount of data accumulated by two LHC experiments called ATLAS and CMS clicked over from 0.999 to 1 inverse femtobarn.


A “barn” is a unit of area, approximately equal to the cross-sectional area of the nucleus of a uranium atom. The prefix “femto” means 10?15 or 0.000000000000001, and an inverse femtobarn is a measurement of particle collisions per area — in other words, how many atoms actually smash together inside the machine.

The more particle collisions that LHC creates, the better its chances of discovering new physics.

“This is a superb achievement, which demonstrates the outstanding performance of the accelerator and of the operation team,” Fabiola Gianotti, spokeswoman for the ATLAS experiment, said in a statement. “The ATLAS physicists, in particular students and postdocs, are working hard and with great enthusiasm to produce exciting results, from precise measurements of the known particles to searches for the Higgs boson and other new phenomena. It’s really a gorgeous moment!”

The Higgs boson is one of the atom smasher’s most prized targets. Physicists think this theoretical particle, also dubbed the God particle, might be responsible for giving other particles mass. Though the Higgs has long been predicted to exist, it has never been seen. Many researchers are holding out hope that LHC will finally be powerful enough to create it.

“With the LHC running at much higher intensity than initially foreseen, signals of new physics might appear any moment in our data,” said CMS spokesman Guido Tonelli. “Hundreds of young researchers all over the world are actively searching for new particles such as the Higgs boson, supersymmetric particles or new exotic states of matter. If nature is kind to us, we could have major breakthroughs even before the end of this incredibly exciting year.”

Source : CBS News


Two Ultraheavy Elements Added to Periodic Table

A committee of international chemists and physicists has officially added two new elements to the periodic table: the ultraweighty elements 114 and 116.

They’re the heaviest members yet of the periodic table, with whopping atomic weights of 289 and 292 atomic mass units respectively. The previous heavyweight winners were copernicium (285) and roentgenium (272).

The two new elements are radioactive and only exist for less than a second before decaying into lighter atoms. Element 116 will quickly decay into 114, and 114 transforms into the slightly lighter copernicium as it sheds its alpha particles.

Evidence for the two elements has been mounting for years. In 1999, for example, Russian physicists bombarded plutonium-244 with calcium-48 to produce a single atom of rapidly decaying 114.

After the discovery of 116 in 2000, a decade of further experimentation and a three-year review process, the new elements were given official status by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics on June 1.

“Element 114″ obviously isn’t a very catchy name, especially in a sea of molybdenums and seaborgiums. They have temporary titles — ununquadium and ununhexium — but final names are yet to been decided.

The discoverers at Dubna, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, in Russia have proposed the name flerovium for 114, after Soviet element-finder Georgy Flyorov, and moscovium for 116, after Russia’sMoscow region.

The committee also heard arguments for elements 113, 115 and 118. They concluded that the results were encouraging, but don’t quite fulfill the criteria for new elements just yet. The temporarily titled ununtrium, ununpentium and ununoctium, which can weigh as much as 294 atomic mass units, will have to try again in a few years.

By Mark Brown, Wired UK

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