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Stanford's SLAC Stepping Aside for CERN's LHC

UPDATED: We're talking high-performance computing and storage today. CERN's Large Hadron Collider [here's a link to live webcams onsite] is in the process of pushing the venerable Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, affectionately known as SLAC, into the background as the world's most powerful subatomic particle mover/smasher.

(Will someone please tell me how anything can actually smash a particle that tiny? What size hammers are they using?)

SLAC has ruled the roost for a generation from its location in the foothills above Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. This is where the first laser was developed, among many other wonderful scientific things. The mile-long building -- which is almost as deep as it is long; a scary thought! -- starts on the west side of the 8,200-acre campus, slips under scenic Highway 280, then continues into Stanford's otherwise wonderfully preserved Jasper Ridge open space area. This land has been untouched by human development and looks the way it looked centuries ago, when various Native American tribes fished, hunted, lived and prospered here. Only animals, authorized hikers and stray SLACkers on lunchtime runs stir up the dust here.

SLAC will not be going away anytime soon, however. It is part of the worldwide scientific network that includes CERN, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Sandia Labs and Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and it will continue to do research and scientific projects involving Stanford, commercial interests and government agencies.

But over the next year, it will hand over the heavy-lifting duties to CERN. The biggest projects, and there are more of these getting into line every day, will be going to Switzerland. SLAC, like a senior citizen who is consciously aware of needing to slow down the pace, will be helping out whenever it is needed.

After all, we're talking about a massive scientific grid here, and every piece is important. As for the data storage: It is, for all intents and purposes, unlimited. There is no other way to describe it. It would have to be, considering the payloads these projects will be producing.

Here are five quick facts about the $9 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) you can use to dazzle someone at your next cocktail party (thanks to our friends at Reuters):

--Though built to study the smallest known building blocks of all things -- known as particles -- the LHC is the largest and most complex machine ever made. It has a circumference of 27 km (17 miles) and lies 100 meters (330 feet) under the ground, straddling French and Swiss territory.

--Storage: The data recorded by the LHC's big experiments will fill about 100,000 dual-layer DVDs each year. Tens of thousands of computers around the world have been harnessed in a computing network called "The Grid" that will hold the information. That's where the "unlimited" storage factor comes into play.

--At full power, trillions of protons will race around the LHC accelerator ring 11,245 times a second, traveling at 99.99 percent the speed of light. It is capable of engineering 600 million collisions every second.

--When two beams of protons collide, they will generate temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the sun, concentrated within a minuscule space. Meanwhile, the cooling system that circulates superfluid helium around the LHC's accelerator ring keeps the machine at minus 271.3 degrees Celsius (minus 456.34 degrees Fahrenheit). Talk about power and cooling. Wow.

--To collect data of up to 600 million proton collisions per second, physicists and scientists have built devices to measure the passage time of a particle to a few billionths of a second. The trigger system also registers the location of particles to millionths of a meter.

And that's our science lesson for today. Thanks again, Reuters.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...