Data ‘tsunami’ from the world’s largest atom smasher

European scientists are gearing themselves up for what they describe as a ‘data tsunami’ from the world’s largest atom-smashing project, which researchers hope will unlock some of the biggest unsolved puzzles about the universe.

Results from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN’s) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project, the world’s biggest scientific collaboration in particle physics, are expected to roll out this year to provide insights into some fundamental unsolved problems such as the origin, evolution and composition of the universe

Indian physicists are excited too – they have contributed hardware, software and skilled manpower to evaluate some of the sub-systems in the project. The Centre for Advanced Technology (CAT) at Indore in central India, under the Department of Atomic Energy, is India’s nodal agency for the LHC project that marks a sound record of collaboration between CERN and India.

The results are poised to change our views of the universe in a profound way, says Tejinder Virdee, professor of physics at the Imperial College, London. Virdee gave a keynote lecture at the ESOF meeting in Barcelona on Friday (18 July).

The LHC, located at the Franco-Swiss border, is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. It has two giant superconducting magnets, 27 kilometres in girth and cooled to two degrees above absolute zero of temperature.

Two beams of protons – positively charged ions – will circulate in these rings for several hours, smashing into each other head-on, at an energy level of 14 Tera-electron volts, higher by a factor of seven compared to current levels.

Four large detectors will record the debris from the collisions. The collisions are expected to recreate matter as it was billionths of seconds after the Big Bang.

A huge avalanche of data is expected, ESOF delegates were told. The gigantic task ahead for physicists will begin with tracking, finding and identifying the particles.

Scientists will next reconstruct the data and use computer simulations for analysis of the complex information.

Computer simulations of the huge volume of data and the high collision rates means a massive computing capacity. The task is no longer being done solely by CERN, with scientists realizing the importance of collaboration at such times. Instead, it is being distributed to 11 computing centers round the world.

Scientists are not taking any chances either. A second copy of the raw data and massive data reconstruction sets will be stored in Spain.

The second tier of copy data means an additional 120 computing centres in 35 countries.

Little wonder then the expected massive data is being compared to an avalanche and, much worse, a tsunami.

T V Padma, South Asian coordinator, SciDev.Net

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