05 November 2011

Project Sixtrack: The Large Hadron Collider and Your Computer

Science needs your help.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the biggest and highest-energy particle accelerator in the world. It will help physicists examine some of the fundamentals of physics covering space and time, quantum mechanics, and general relativity.

Some of the high profile experiments done with the LHC are the study of The Standard Model, Super Symmetry (SUSY), and the search for the Higgs-Boson particle; See the video below. It is one of the largest most ambitious projects in science today, not to mention expensive.

You and your computer can be part of this experiment.

The LHC is built in a 17 mile long (27 kilometer) circular tunnel, 574 feet (175 meters) beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland at the The European Organization for Nuclear Research otherwise known as CERN. It is designed to collide opposing particle beams of high speed protons. The term hadron refers to particles composed of quarks. Physicists focus on what happens after these protons smash together. Studying and understanding this event can bring in the next evolution of science and a deeper understanding of the universe.

Video: Want to know more about Higgs boson, standard model, SUSY and neutrinos? Check out this first episode What's New @CERN:

How can you contribute to this experiment?


Your computer. Time on your computer to be exact.

Protons are very very small. Yet, when they are travelling close to the speed of light inside the LHC, the power and energy that they carry is both massive and destructive. According to physicist, Lenny Rivkin, the force can be similar to an aircraft carrier smashing into the wall. Rivkin is a professor of accelerator physics at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Without careful planning, these protons can damage the LHC's superconducting magnets rendering it inoperable.Note: Each dipole magnet is 15 meters long and weighs 35 tons. And there are 1232 of these magnets lining the LHC. In an LHC experiment, as much as 150,000,000,000 or 150 Billion protons are used.

As the article in ISGTW about Project SixTrack states: "Accelerator physicists have started to plan for the next stage of the machine, an upgrade to the magnets in 2020. Stronger magnets will be used to decrease the beam size ever further, and increase the chance of collisions inside the detectors. It’s essentially like a new machine, and the accelerator physicists have to do all new calculations. The proton-proton interactions will also become crucial to the stability of the beam"

To ensure safety, reliability, and accuracy of the upgrade (not to mention avoiding destroying the Large Hadron Collider itself), thousands of computer simulations will be done and millions of measurements required. With only the limited number of computers available for the LHC at CERN, the experiment had to look for other ways to expand its computing power.

“All these changes need to be simulated very carefully, and volunteer computing provides the resources that no one has,” says Rivkin.

Enter Project Sixtrack.

Project Sixtrack allows "volunteers to help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and to compare theory with experiment in the search for new fundamental particles... By contributing spare processing capacity on their home and laptop computers, volunteers may run simulations of beam dynamics and particle collisions in the LHC's giant detectors..."

You can sign up and volunteer spare computing time on your pc or laptop to help out in this project. It's simply downloading a small program called BOINC, which would run SixTrack simulations on their home and office computers whenever they weren’t in use. The results are then sent back to CERN for processing. It doesn't really get in the way since BOINC only runs when the computer is idle.

If you want to help out in the design and upgrade to the LHC, all you have to do is download the program and follow the instruction on the SixTrack website. There is another LHC@Home project, called Test4Theory, which simulates collisions which you also can volunteer. Just follow this link to the SixTrack website.

Here is the next episode (Nov 2011) of What's New @Cern

Related Links

Speed of Light Theory To Be Challenged Again
Whats New @CERN 07 Nov 2011
What Is The Higgs Boson And Why It Matters
Particles Travel Faster Than Light Again
What is String Theory?
Whats New @CERN 06 Dec 2011
CERN Press Release: Higgs Particle Search Status Still Inconclusive
Bartenders Use Physics in Mixing Cocktails
Danceroom Spectroscopy: Quantum Physics on the Dance Floor.