“a hot, dense soup of quarks and gluons.”

As the BBC noted, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern has switched from firing beams of protons to beams of heavy [lead] ions.  From the BBC report

One of the scientists who will be taking a part in the experiment is David Evans from the University of Birmingham, UK.

“Although the tiny fireballs will only exist for a fleeting moment (less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) the temperatures will reach over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun,” said Dr Evans.

“At the temperatures generated, even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of the atoms, will melt, resulting in a hot, dense soup of quarks and gluons.”

The researcher said that the temperatures and densities that the collider will aim to create will be the highest ever produced in an experiment.

And the collisions have already begun.

The Guardian’s pet particle physicist, Jon Butterworth, explains what’s going on.

As particles collide at higher and higher energies, different physical effects occur. For example, if atoms collide with high enough energies, they knock electrons off each other – they ionise. Experiments which map the cosmic microwave background (like COBE, WMAP and Planck) look at the physics from the moment (about 400,000 years after the start) when the universe got so cool that this ionisation stopped happening. Before that everything was plasma. Plasma is the stuff which glows in fluorescent lightbulbs.

Go further back, a few minutes after the big bang, and energies get so high that even atomic nuclei can’t hold together. At this point, protons and neutrons are everywhere. These are the kind of energies you need for nuclear fusion, as is being attempted at ITER.

Back a big step further (about 0.00000000001 seconds after the big bang) and the protons and neutrons can’t even stay whole. The quarks and gluons that they are made of spread over the whole universe (which is quite small at this point). This is a new form of matter we refer to as “quark-gluon plasma”, though evidence from experiments at RHIC indicates it may behave more like a quark-gluon liquid in fact. This is the stuff the LHC will be able to reproduce now, and which the experiments will study – especially ALICE, which is built for this purpose.

The concentrations of energy we get in proton collisions are even higher. They take us back to energies above another threshold – the electroweak symmetry breaking scale – above which the weak nuclear force is as strong as the electromagnetic force, and maybe Higgs bosons roam free. This would be about 10-34 seconds after the start. That is thirty-four zeros between the decimal point and the 1.

Before this energies are even higher and frankly no one knows, though there are plenty of theories.

He also points to a more detailed, technical, explanation here.

And a quick reminder of what it’s all about, wrinkles aside…

And here’s an interesting, but un-embeddable, short video of Murray Gell-Mann discussing his work on quarks, symmetry and ignoring received wisdom.  As Jon Butterworth noted

I am very convinced by his lucid description of how unnecessary concepts get in the way, and how ditching “what everybody knows” can lead to sudden progress.

Of course, for all of you out there with budding new theories, this is only true if the data back you up.

The data backed up Gell-Mann spectacularly: his quarks (and the gluons they exchange) lie behind all the jets we are seeing now at the LHC.

  • joeCanuck

    That comment was cut and paste from your last link!

  • Pete Baker

    Which link?

  • joeCanuck

    ..jets we are seeing now..

    He links half way down to “amusing typos”

  • Pete Baker

    Then leave it there, Joe.

    Rather than introducing it in here without context or reference.

    Not that it would have passed with either of those things.

    There’s a topic here already. And it isn’t ‘amusing typos’.

  • slappymcgroundout

    I’m sure you know the joke: A Higgs-boson walks into a church. The priest says, we don’t allow your kind in here. The Higgs-boson says, But without me how can you have mass?

    And so, “we’ll find this particle if it exists”. Dangerous thing to say, since if you don’t find it…

  • Dr Concitor

    Very good slappy.
    The Higgs boson is a hypothetical particle to make the so called ‘standard model’ work. Proving it does not exist would be at least as momentous as finding it. The history of science is littered with abandoned theories, that’s the way it works.

  • Phil

    If we don’t find it, it’ll be just as exciting – and there’ll be a lot more work for theorists to do!

    There are some theories without the Higgs already but they’re much less popular,

  • percy

    i wonder if we’re all missing something ; that is the irish dimension in all of this:
    say The big bang is partition;
    we are trying to find out what happened just after the big bang that has led to all the misery.

    perhaps we can prove that partition is based on poisonous foundations; and so any glue which tries to hold that together is just a band-aid!

    thre percy/sammycmnally wotdidit principle, meets the fealty/baker particle …..head on !!!!

  • joeCanuck

    Yes, Phil. It’s very possible, perhaps even likely, that the Higgs particle doesn’t exist. The Standard Model has been pretty good but is known to have flaws (Rumsfeld’s known or unkown unknowns?). Hopefully the experiments at the LHC will settle the question.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Just as exciting? As exciting as near collapse of the financial system? The danger isn’t to the Standard Model, any more than the danger was to Newtonian mechanics, which by the way, though wrong, is still taught to physics students today. As you all know, it’s still taught because it works for most practical purposes. And if the standard model can do that, it will stick around as well. The danger here is that some will be so outraged that tens, hundreds of billions of dollars were spent simply to verify a now discredited theory, and not for any practical purpose, and so a more practical physics will get the funding shaft as well. What do they hope to gain by this? Learning how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? As I am presuming you know, even if they “find” the Higgs boson, it won’t be directly, but inferentially (a free quark or gluon has never been directly observed). And we’ll have arguments over that, since what is happening is that what with those large numbers of collisions, there’s more data than any human or group of humans could possibly analyze themselves, and so some are programming their supercomputer to look for certain patterns, etc. Interesting way of doing science, since while absence of the expected pattern(s), etc., might be taken as inferential evidence of no Higgs boson, some might be overlooking a whole host of other negative data. And is here where I say that we already know that humans tend to see patterns that don’t exist?

    We don’t understand gravity, but the world goes on. So why the big need here? And by the way, if this is supposed to be part of a theory of everything, then some are horribly wrong re dark energy and/or their quantum theory. From Pete’s beloved NASA:

    Another explanation for how space acquires energy comes from the quantum theory of matter. In this theory, “empty space” is actually full of temporary (“virtual”) particles that continually form and then disappear. But when physicists tried to calculate how much energy this would give empty space, the answer came out wrong – wrong by a lot. The number came out 10120 times too big. That’s a 1 with 120 zeros after it. It’s hard to get an answer that bad. So the mystery continues.

    So, which is it? There’s is no dark energy, or there is but their quantuam theory is horribly wrong as it provides a result here that is horribly wrong? And kindly note “virtual” particles. Or “temporary”, take your pick. They too are theoretical constructs that have never been shown to exist (that’s why some call them “virtual”). But they need to exist because the model won’t work without them. Which isn’t a bad thing if it leads to practical result that we can use to better our lives. Going back to gravity, I’ll take the betterment of our lives over “truth” any day of the week and twice on Sunday for the doubleheader. But if we aren’t doing it for that, then it’s how many angels can dance on the head of pin and as my one math professor said back in the day of the calculus of several variables, there’s math that’s useful and then there’s a theoretical math than can populate an alternative universe with all sorts of things that have no evidence for their having ever existed. By the way, that’s string theory as well, and that’s the context in which the prof’s remarks came up, since as the prof said, there is zero experimental or observational evidence that any extra dimension exists. Some simply need it to exist or their theory won’t work (like those “virtual” particles). And that’s where he said that math jumped the tracks (as it were). Which lead to his ultimate end, which is where I will end, and so it isn’t about “truth”, but instead next year’s funding. And they have to do this, because there are already too many physicists and so even more would be stuck with no job in their field should some stick to betterment of our lives and not how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    Almost forgot, but you will notice that I put “truth” in ” “. As Neils Bohr so aptly stated: It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we say about Nature. So there is no “truth” here. Only what we can say. And some of us prefer that what we should say concerns betterment of our condition and not how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    For one more, please spare me any nonsense response about some imagined practical benefit from all this. I’ve read the comments to the one NY Times piece and I wanted to hurl. The correct view is instead, stated most simply:

    Unlike low energy physics, supercolliders such as the Large Hadron can only find what existed naturally at energies that prevailed about 13.7 billion years ago just after the beginning of the cosmic Big Bang. Thus the findings of such experiments could never serve any practical purpose under present conditions.

  • Pete Baker


    It’s not the findings that prove useful to practical purposes but the technologies devised to measure those findings.

    Newtonian mechanics remain as close an approximation to reality to be useful at the velocities we can achieve.

    The theoretical energy band within which a Higgs boson should exist is known. If it isn’t found in those areas then the current hypothesis is wrong.

    “We don’t understand gravity”

    We don’t have a theory that unifies gravity with the quantum world, but that’s not the same thing.

    ‘Dark’ energy and matter are so named precisely because they are not explained by the current theories.

    And nature is not capitalised.

    “What do they hope to gain by this? Learning how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

    They are testing hypotheses.

    Unlike the entirely imaginary angels question, this testing involves experimentation and the observation of reality.

  • slappymcgroundout

    So tell me, what new technology looks to come out of this effort? There doesn’t seem to be any. The technology is already existing and how could any related technology have a practical use when the purpose of the technology in use is simply to create conditions that do not and will not exist in our current world outside of the collider? Hold on, you might be right. Some have warned against the collider, saying that it might cause a black hole, with catastrophic consequences. So maybe we can get a new weapon of mass destruction from this. That’s about it.

    Re Newton’s mechanics, that’s precisely my point. So long as it works.

    Re the Higgs boson, that isn’t exactly true. Recall what I wrote. They won’t directly observe the Higgs boson even if they claim to have found the same. They will have inferentially found it. So how can one ever say that there isn’t something else in the soup that skewed the data received such as to obliterate any inferential evidence of the Higgs boson? That’s one of the problems of inference.

    Re gravity, no, we simply don’t undertand gravity. We have no causal explanation. All we have are descriptions of gravity and a law of gravity. Neither of those means that we understand gravity. So you get the point, long before Mendel and Watson and Crick, humans were already selectively breeding domesticated animals. They didn’t know how it worked but it didn’t stop them from the practical application of something they didn’t understand. We are somewhat ahead re gravity, as we have descriptions and what we call a “law”. But as any physics professor will tell you: We do not understand gravity, but there is no doubt of its importance. And what you meant to say but didn’t is that general relativity conflicts with quantum theory, and so some have come up with the gravitron in an attempt to harmonize the two. And if I understand what some are saying, we’d need a collider as large as Jupiter to have any hope of finding the gravitron. Almost forgot: “As far as I know, we do not understand why gravity does what it does, (as in the cause of it) however we understand, or believe we understand, what its effects are.” We don’t understand cause and neither did our forebears with respect to their selective breeding. We both concern ourselves with, and in their case, manipulate, the effects. By the way, the reason why our man says “we understand, or BELIEVE we understand” is that for all science, not just physics, if you don’t understand causation, then you understand nothing, and so what we think are the “effects” of gravity might actually be the effects of something else. We don’t know, since we don’t know what causes gravity and so we can’t tie cause to effect.

    Re things dark, you wrote:

    ‘Dark’ energy and matter are so named precisely because they are not explained by the current theories.

    NO. NO. NO. The theory is the thing that posited the existence of things dark. We didn’t find things dark and then work them into the theory. They are called dark because the theory posits that they do not emit or absorb electromagnetic radiation (since if they did, they’d be “light” and we’d “see” them). And did you not understand the import of my quote from NASA? When you do the math, the quantum model posits an amount dark energy that is simply absurd. Most of us sane folk would think that such would tell us that the quantum model, where virtual comes into being and disappears in a virtual instant, is wrong, as evidenced by the absurd number resulting from the calculation provided by the model. But they call it a “mystery”. A “mystery”, much like transubstantiation to Catholics.

    Now back to the quantum model being wrong:


    As I said above, things dark weren’t discovered and then added to the model, instead, the model didn’t work without them and so they were theoretized into the model (as it were), despite there being no experimental or observational data indicating that they even existed. Again, much like those extra dimensions that have no experimental or observational evidence to support their existence.

    Here is another piece:


    First, note again the one premise, to wit, the model didn’t work, so some theorized the same. That is stated here as:

    Dark matter was invoked to explain how galaxies stick together. The visible matter alone in galaxies—stars, gas and dust—is nowhere near enough to hold them together, so scientists reasoned there must be something invisible that exerts gravity and is central to all galaxies.

    Second, note the central role of gravity in the discussion. As I said, we don’t understand gravity and we furthermore are making the assumption that what happens here locally happens across the vast expanse of a galaxy as well. That may not be true. We’d know if we understood gravity and not simply what we attribute as gravity’s effects.

    Lastly, and by the way, on a related note, there is a simple theoretical explanation for the observed acceleration. Grab some marbles. Turn on your record player and put on an old record. Then drop the marbles onto the record while its playing. As you will notice, from the point of view of any particular marble, the other marbles will be accelerating away. So maybe the observed acceleration is the entire universe, like your record playing on the record player, rotating around the center of gravity of the universe. Each marble would have no way of knowing that it is rotating, and from its particular view, the farther another marble got away, the faster would appear the acceleration. And kindly note also that the center of gravity would not be a cenral point, but would enlarge as the universe expanded and, also, the force of gravity from center out would decrease with the expansion and so the centrifugal forces would dominate over gravity leading to yet more expansion away from the center of rotation. In other words, who needs theoretical mathematics when some marbles, a record player, and a record will do.

  • Dr Concitor

    Newtonian mechanics falls apart at the very large ( as you pointed out Pete), but also at the very small,which is quantum mechanics or quantum electrodynamics (QED) as described by Paul Dirac. In the average world of say, a civil engineer , Newton is all you need.
    QED is the foundation of much of what we take for granted in the modern world – e.g. the mobile phone. The electronics in this little device rely totally on quantum theory for their function. If a million practical engineers spent a million years in their workshops they still would not come up with a mobile phone. Some may say that is a good idea.
    I would let the boys and girls in Cern, Fermilab etc play with their expensive toys, you never know where it may lead. A better understanding of the electro weak force may make power generation using nuclear fusion practical. An endless, cheap,carbon free energy source. What a prize that would be.

  • Dr Das

    Prof. Fred Hyole had coined the word , “BIG BANG”. He alongwith Prof. Harmann Bondi and Prof. Thomas Gold had introduced the the concept of , “PERFECT COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE” by the name steady state theory and 5% of the observations support this principle. Finally he alongwith Prof J.V.narlikar had given CONTINUOUS CREATION THEORY. According to Prof. Harmann Bondi, “ It is 80% Big bang, 5% steady State and 15% unknown”. On this ground I have introduced a new model of the universe. This new model has capable to explain all the observations of Big bang (80%), steady state observations (5%) plus unknown observations (15%) . This NEW MODEL of the universe with new scientific understanding postulated by me that supports the continuous creation theory goes by the name of HOYLE -NARLIKAR UNIVERSE. .

    – NEW MODEL OF THE UNIVERSE AND NEW SCIENTIFIC UNDERSTANDING (For details please see http://www.atomicgenetics.com )
    Hoyle and Narlikar proposed (in their continuous creation theory) that new matter is being created due to ‘IMPLOSION’ to balance the expansion of the universe, which astronomers have observed. Inside ‘QUASI-STARS’ gravitational collapses may form some matter in the universe. The huge luminosity and the radio emission from these quasi-stars appear to be ‘gravity powered’ unlike ordinary stars, which derive their energy from nuclear reactions .
    This WEB site (www.atomicgenetics.com) is dedicated to BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS (Mind and Mass part of the Truth) of the universe, which are OMNIPRESENT and OMNISCIENCE. These are divine structural and functional units of the universe. These are eternal bodies of the Nature. They have transmutated themselves to form visible and as well as invisible Universe. All religions worship these OMNIPRESENT by their different names.