Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Politics And Science At The LHC

In the days before Madison Avenue, public relations and spin doctors, Science was free to speak for itself. Like any other activity it was criticized and judged on its activites and results by media and the people. If the public had questions, the scientists answered them. Political games were for government and business. Now big science instituitions and labs with their own bewildering bureaucracies, have developed an interface to present an ideal world of science through their press offices and lobbyists. They sell science like GM sells cars. Somehow the media seems not to have noticed the difference, taking spin doctors' science press kits and sound bite analysis at face value.

Camera shy bumbling scientists with thick accents who were honest about what they were doing, if you could follow the science and what they said, have now been pushed behind closed doors while the media gurus have taken over. At CERN they go a step further and stage media science events, like the big ballyhoo September 10th to show off the Large Hadron Collider during a preliminary start-up test. A modest start-up showcase for an extremely powerful atom-smasher that smashes nothing that day is played out as a big success and a victory for LHC safety. No more doomsday. Doomsayers all wrong, CERN always right. Then three big things go wrong which are skillfully downplayed. While the little ball of protons zips around, the CMS computer system is being hacked by the Greek Team and that for 2 days at the home of the World Wide Web? A 30 tonne surface transformer blows 36 hours later during a thunderstorm. Then a massive failure occurs in the cryogenic cooling system which cripples an eighth of the 17 mile collider ring. Very little information released, but a lot of reassurances on "teething troubles" at the giant baby collider.

It can get worse. The latest surprise from CERN is a new paper published which finally comes to grips with part of the problem with the helium used in their massive near absolute zero cooling system. The CERN paper dismisses every safety concern with helium without considering all of them in "There is no explosion risk associated with superfluid Helium in the LHC cooling system", September 23, 2008, by Malcolm Fairbairn and Bob McElrath of the CERN theory group.

Its focus is helium-4 bosenovas at the LHC and cold fusion during these events.

The short answer is, "We conclude that that there is no physics whatsoever which suggests that Helium could undergo any kind of unforseen catastrophic explosion."

Sounds like these guys were in a hurry, but right behind the Eight Ball. "that that" is fast fast, potential there for a new type of doublespeak. Of course there was an explosive release of one to two tonnes of superfluid helium last time, but that was different. Not a real explosion, more like your radiator exploding, not your gas tank. But the paranormal mindbender winner is, as KFC at the physics arXiv blog said of CERN's conclusions, "That's comforting and impressive. Ruling out forseen catastrophies is certainly useful but the ability to rule out unforeseen ones is truly amazing."

It's a welcome response from CERN even if it is only partial. I first raised the issue myself in ScienticBlogging, July 2nd, 2008, in "Superfluids, BECs And Bosenovas: The Ultimate Experiment" reprinted here on The Science of Conundrums. When CERN didn't bother answering, I contacted their LSAG people via email twice, August 25th and 29th, but included other helium risks like the production of helium-3 via LHC energies ionizing helium-4, where helium-3 bosenovas obviously should also be considered. I received no reply and CERN's paper doesn't address helium-3 bosenovas either. I also wrote about nuclear events in helium, certainly a potential danger in helium-3 and even possible plasma and fusion reactions of helium-3 at the LHC. Again no answer from CERN. Only this sweeping rebuttal: "There is no physics whatsoever which suggests that Helium could undergo any kind of unforseen catastrophic explosion" Is this science or speculation and politics? Don't worry from CERN, but this time not from the CERN PR department, but their CERN theory group.

If this sounds a spectacular failure in addressing safety issues honestly, well what other explanation is there? All they had to say was Helium-4 Bosenovas are Bunk, and Cold Fusion of Helium-4 Stinks. Of course we hope other physicists will examine CERN's 6 page paper and let everyone know if CERN's arguments are sound. Even if they are on Helium-4, one mosquito does not a summer make. Though there have been plenty of light speed protons in another CERN public relations context, masquerading as mosquitos.

If the politics of safety can override safety concerns, like chicks sprawled on red sports cars, are there other similar sales jobs on safety approximating the scientific? Where is the CERN Model hiding out? Look no further than the pharmacuetical industry. When people die, safe products are recalled. Tons of safety reports and tankers on a magazine sunset, and then a giant oil tanker spills and kills birds and animals and fish by the thousands. With 6 months of downtime at the LHC thanks to accidents can happen, they've got plenty of time for gearing up for a new sales campaign, CERN TV commmercials. We're still waiting breathlessly for "Spin the Collider and Win" or "My Best Friend is a Collider / When he gets warm I get hot / Gimme gimme gimme more / My collider / Bang, bang, bang / Big Bang. Be there! Beat Doomsday! Make it happen. Geneva is to die for. Hunker in our bunker or dance the night away. Win a trip for two at participating Dunkin Donuts, your Collider Central. Free Collider Keychain in every limited time only Giant Collider Donut. Careful when you munch. Be safe, dunk first."

Nowadays politics is part of big science. Recently a Climate scientist at MIT, Richard S Lindzen wrote a paper, "Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?" Although the author states that the focus of his paper is on climate science, "some of the problems pertain to science more generally."

Lindzen notes "the change in the scientific paradigm from a dialectic opposition between theory and observation to an emphasis on simulation and observational programs." The LHC Machine is certainly part of this change from earlier Einsteinian physics to let's see what happens when we simulate the Big Bang.

". . . an emphasis on large programs that never end." Fifty years of CERN and now on a budget of $1 billion a year with a $10 billion broken collider that might never work right.

". . . the hierarchical nature of formal scientific organizations whereby a small executive council can speak on behalf of thousands of scientists as well as govern the distribution of 'carrots and sticks' where by reputations are made and broken." CERN in a nutshell.

". . . the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research." New Physics sought.

". . . scientists adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions, and how opposition to these positions is disposed of." Safety or the appearance of safety? Critics are doomsayers who just don't understand.

Well this still works for CERN because it is an enormous organization that has a small powerful directorate and a Director General with Presidential Powers, 'carrots and sticks'. So big and influential in physics that those within and those outside are wary of demurring on anything. Even 20 EU governments that support CERN financially applaud rather than criticize, but then they're not scientists, or cost accountants, and just as misinformed as anyone else. If there are any diplomatic groans, it's probably because the big collider party this October 21st has been called off. In the interests of vitual safety, no doubt here a Virual Inauguration would be safer for Heads of State. Cheaper too, a few souvinir hardhats FedEx'd. Click for Bollinger and caviar now.

No doubt CERN will spring for the real thing. These guys pay their bills. It's prestige that still counts. With participation in other nuclear labs in Europe and friendly relations with many others worldwide, CERN amounts to something like the Church of the Middle Ages. Not based in Geneva for nothing. In 1955 the Swiss Government gave CERN carte blanche to operate in Switzerland as part of the deal to locate its operations in Switzerland. The list of concessions and priviledges CERN enjoys gives it the power of a city state (currently 2,600 staff, plus some 7,931 scientists and engineers, in Wikipedia) or in modern terms, that accorded to a foreign government's embassy and its diplomats. When CERN expanded into France in 1973, the French government was more circumspect but awarded CERN similar if more limited powers. Neither country though has jurisdiction over CERN, its property, its personnel or its activities. Though the French have reserved some rights including the right to intervene if there is a threat to France. If CERN blows up Geneva, Switzerland will have to sue Fermilab. An obvious mistake to put an organization above the law, like we didn't know the gun was loaded. Anyone in Switzerland or CERN care to bet that the obvious mistakes are the most statistically significant?

Surely if there were doubts within CERN as to problems or even the advisability of the Large Hadron Collider in the first place, we would hear about it? Not much has slipped through the cracks in the CERN PR department except their tactics. One source is CERN archives. Some CERN people have found themselves embassassed in hindsight when their candid comments were recorded in CERN videos, transcripts and documents.

One insider has recently commented, not realizing there was some unwritten code of silence. A CERN physicist, Tommaso Dorigo who works at the LHC CMS experiment, wrote in his blog, A Quantum Diaries Survivor, "In fact CERN appears a bit up-tight about the latest events in sector 34 of the LHC tunnel. He goes on to say ". . . since my blog is targeted as a possible source of leaks. . . And if I play fair, maybe I am allowed to survive here, and maybe one day I will stop being threatened every other day, in the name of protecting internal information of the experiments I am a part of."

Dorigo concludes, "Of course, I still assert my complete disagreement at a way to conduct scientific experiments paid with your tax money which resembles the management of the Pentagon rather than an agorà of education, research and scientific communication."

--Alan Gillis


Fairbairn, Malcolm and McElrath, Bob. "There is no explosion risk associated with superfluid Helium in the LHC cooling system", September 23, 2008, arxiv,

KFC. "Forget black holes, could the LHC trigger a "Bose supernova"?, September 29, 2008, the physics arxiv blog,

Gillis, Alan. "Superfluids, BECs And Bosenovas: The Ultimate Experiment At The LHC", July 12, 2008, The Science of Conundrums,

Gillis, Alan. "The Almost Thermonuclear LHC", March 17, 2008, The Science of Conundrums,

Lindzen, Richard S. "Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?", September 27, 2008, arxiv,

Dorigo, Tommaso. "An agorà of education and scientific communication", September 23, 2008, A Quantum Diaries Survivor,

CERN / Switzerland. "Agreement between the Swiss Federal Council and the European Organization for Nuclear Research . . .", June 11, 1955, CERN Legal Services,

CERN / France. "Agreement between the Government of the French Republic and the European Organization for Nuclear Research . . .", August 30, 1973, CERN Legal Services,


Alan Gillis said...

LHC Inauguration OFF and ON Again. The show must go on. It's official. A CERN Press Release October 2, 2008 confirms the big bash for October 21,

More details on the CERN Bulletin,

It was going to be delayed, as reported by AFP/PhysOrg,

About 1500 guests are coming including 300 journalists, and another 1500 CERN personnel. An avant-guarde "Molecular Buffet" with live ditto Philip Glass score by the Orchestre Suisse Romande for the A/V Concert.

Broadcast live as a CERN webcast and on Eurovision, including boring bits, suits and speeches. LHC-fest follows for CERN staff.

By invitation only starting at 14h00. You can watch it here on The Science of Conundrums through the Live Webcast link, home page column on your right.

Looks like we'll have to throw our own Breakfast and Beer Texas Line Dancing Collider BigBangBoo.

Alan Gillis said...

This comment was addressed to me by one of the co-authors, Dr Bob McElrath of the CERN theory group "Helium" paper, that was published today on ScientificBlogging, on the reprint of this article:


Submitted by Bob McElrath (not verified) on 4 October 2008 - 6:55am.

Admit your mistake and move on. You are promulgating bullshit "theories" with no supporting evidence. We demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is no danger.

Now you want to claim Helium-3 is a problem? The fraction of Helium 3 in the LHC cooling system is 0.000137% (just the natural abundance). This fraction of Helium-3 has been in virtually every liquid Helium experiment ever done. Helium-3 has been extracted, purified, liquefied, and also forms an interesting kind of superfluid at low temperatures that has been intensely studied because it has such strange properties. And you know what, it never explodes. The same fraction of Helium-3 is in the cooling system for the magnets at Fermilab, which has been running for ~10 years, and is subject to very large magnetic fields just as the LHC.

We checked with several other physicists, including several at CERN, Elizabeth Donley (who did the Bose-Nova experiment in the first place) and another fellow at University College London who makes BEC's to make sure we all had our facts straight. How many physicists have you run your crazy ideas by?

To believe things that have never been observed to explode are suddenly going to explode is illogical and unscientific. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Helium (3 or 4) could explode. Even if somehow it did, the Bose-Nova experiment released a miniscule amount of energy. Far less than the thermal energy of Helium at 1.9K. It only looked like a spectacular explosion because everything in that experiment was so cold to begin with. The atoms ejected from the BEC had temperatures raised from nano-Kelvin to milli-Kelvin. So even if energy was released somehow, it would be very tiny and quickly transported away due to the incredibly high thermal conductivity of liquid Helium. (as we point out in our paper)

Please stop your scare-mongering and find something more productive to do with your time. I have better things to do with my time than dismiss your crackpot theories.

Alan Gillis said...

Dr McElrath, you're sitting on an enormous quantity of quantum superfluid helium at the LHC, which you've only started to investigate in your paper. This is a question CERN should have seriously studied before going ahead with the LHC. I've raised it because CERN hasn't.

Once again you claim in your comment there is no danger when you still have not considered the production of helium-3 from ionization of helium-4 at the LHC and what it might do under LHC conditions, including helium-3 bosenovas and other possible nuclear events in helium. You assume there are no problems and then insist there aren't, without any proof. That's not worthy of a science paper. Your conclusions, apart from your analysis of helium-4, to quote you are "bullshit".

Even so, has any research team tried to produce helium-4 bosenovas to prove or disprove the theories you've assembled? You don't mention any? This is standard in science. You always test your theories if you can. Theories can be wrong. That bubble chambers have used helium-4 is not a proof of helium safety either, as beams and particles targeting the helium have been feeble in comparison to expected LHC energies.

Why not experiment on helium and see what would occur, especially as near as you can to LHC conditions? Or go very slowly in ramping up beam energies, so you test on the fly. I think even this would be hazardous and I wouldn't advise it. First you should do all the experiments you can outside the LHC to confirm helium safety.

Bosenovas are still not fully understood. Perhaps as you suggest a recent theory is correct, that local spikes from the atomic density during collapse explains kinetic energy release. I'd say these are probably spiking atoms warmer than the superfluid and so they release their thermal energy. Think of the two-fluid model in superfluid helium. But what happens to 50% of the bosenova when it vanishes after the implosion/explosion?

If the thermal energy release is small as you say, even if a large bosenova occured, it might be ignored. The main problem for the collider could be the explosion event where some of the BEC is vaporized, and so could rupture helium lines and cause more coolant loss and quenching. Even small bosenovas within tiny helium lines used to cool the beam screens might rupture them and beam cryostats. But the oddest thing would be some permanent loss of helium coolant, the vanishing 50% from the bosenova, which could cause a quench by itself. Since there are gaps in LHC magnetic fields at magnet interconnect points, this released helium or whatever it becomes could find a way out. What would this bosenova release of vanishing or altered matter do to personnel present?

Helium-3 bosenovas are more likely you would have to say, as helium-3 fits in with your overall bosenova parameter theory.

The LSAG was informed by me, including Dr Mangano of the LSAG whom you consulted on your "Helium" paper, as to helium-3 production and some of its potentials at the LHC. We're not talking about trace amounts of helium-3 naturally occuring in helium-4. The helium-3 bosenova potential is not something I've just tacked on to annoy you. It is a legitimate concern that has appeared in some of my recent articles. It's been totally ignored.

You can't simply insist on helium safety by referring to the use of helium in other small low power colliders like the Tevatron. The LHC single pipe design with extremely powerful beams and extreme magnetic fields very close together is unique to the LHC as are the colossal energies of the projected beams and collisions, not forgetting eventual lead ion beams and collisions at 1,150 TeV. The ionization of helium-4 is certain by proton scattering from your beams. Routine proton scattering has been anticipated by Lyn Evans, the Project Head and chief engineer of the LHC, and admitted widely as the usual cause of magnet quenching. The longer the collider operates, the more helium-3 will be produced.

What's the potential if a 7 TeV proton beam hits your superfluid? You don't know because no one has produced such beams before. But you've built two beam dumps to absorb these beam energies, each graphite composite rod encased in a 1,000 tonnes of concrete and steel. You're expecting extremely dangerous particle beams. A 7 TeV beam unravelling in the collider, and that might happen, burns through anything in its path including helium, sometimes before it can be dumped, sometimes totally lost within the collider. Even if as you say a beam would only vaporize some superfluid, this beam would first burn a hole through the helium line and the vaporization would increase the pressure and the line would rupture. But you can't say what a 7 TeV beam would do in a few nanoseconds. It could penetrate the superfluid so fast, it could do nuclear damage to helium even before there was vaporization. Beam accidents of much lower power have occured at the Tevatron with consequent serious damage to the collider including rupture of helium. No fusion noted, but certainly there are nuclear events, hence the ongoing radiation pollution of these colliders, not just alpha from helium, but tritium produced at the Tevatron, maybe from lithium lenses used.

These aren't theories or crackpot theories but facts and serious questions. It's for CERN to answer them. Read my articles carefully and your own careless conclusions. Resorting to personal insults isn't part of the scientific method either. A lot is at stake at the LHC including your lives.

Beams interacting with the magnets also produce electron clouds especially in pre-accelerators and continue through the main accelerator until they have been scraped and focused. You've already seen these and have not been able to eliminate them, or proton scattering either. Electrons bombarding helium-4 also ionize it to helium-3. So there are two unusual pathways for helium-3 production at the LHC. Of course the third more obvious pathway is due to high electical currents running through the Rutherford cable to produce the magnetic fields which are bathed in helium and so nearby helium is electrified and ionized to some extent. Why do I have to do your thinking for you?

If this is a surprise to you, then I'm the more surprised. What are 2500 physicists doing at CERN ignoring 130 tonnes of quirky superfluid? Shouldn't safety concerns be your first priority? You say I'm wasting your time bringing them up?

I also warned the LSAG of big potential nuclear events in helium-3. Helium-3 can fuse readily with itself. There have even been proposals from scientists to extract some from the Moon and bring it here to use as a nuclear fuel.

The trigger for helium-3 fusion could be a lost beam or an extreme unforeseen particle collision event like a large fireball exploding or production of mBH that might rupure its reactor chamber you call a detector, like ATLAS. Helium is always nearby.

If that's not enough to consider, here's another look at small nuclear events, possibly explosions: High energy protons scattering or beam loss could smash helium-4 and helium-3 atoms or helium-3 molecules causing small nuclear events, perhaps with enough exposive force to puncture vacuum and helium lines that could cause significant damage to the collider, as well as producing alpha and other radiation.

Potential nuclear events big and small require a new CERN safety study as well as another one on helium-3 bosenovas. Experimental proof that helium-4 bosenovas can not happen should also be made available. Practical experiments on heliums need to be performed to verify theories and potentials that are well within CERN's technical expertise. This isn't for me, but for thousands of CERN personnel on site who are possibly at risk. In a worst case scenario which CERN should model, helium-3 fusion could trigger helium-4 fusion and you might have a thermonuclear event that could destroy Geneva. Thinking it won't happen or insisting it won't, without evidence, is not going to prevent it. You have to prove or disprove it, and then take appropriate action if there is a risk.

Yet CERN is considering another rush, this time a jump from 0.45 to 7 TeV beams as early as this spring. This I think is a formula for disaster.

You might recall that I've been right about some weaknesses in your extrememely complicated engineering and equipment. The LHC has suffered three important accidents since start-up. And during pre-start-up you've had other accidents including beam loss and consequent magnet destruction in TT40. As of today and going on since the massive quench, there have been cooling system irregularities. Now four sectors of eight including your damaged 3-4 report warming in many magnets, plus slight warming in the other four sectors. What's going on?

Click on LHC Cooldown Status in the column to the right of this article, in KEY CERN SITES.