Palisade grad enjoys front-row seat on international atom-smashing project

The room was hot with the mass of people.

On any other day, the control room situated on the Swiss-French border would have 20 or so physicists staffing a dizzying array of panels, knobs and buttons and complaining about how chilly it is.

But on Sept. 10, the day when the most powerful atom smasher in the world, the Large Hadron Collider project, was to be turned on, the room was packed with more than 100 scientists and news crews from half a dozen countries, all wanting to catch a glimpse of what will take the experiment one step closer to essentially recreating the Big Bang — the theory behind the creation of the universe.

And right in the middle of all this was Jeremiah Goodson, a 2000 Palisade High School graduate with a love for physics.

“Anyone who could find an excuse to be in the control room did,” Goodson said. “I think most of us are glad to see plans continue to proceed to fruition, after decades of planning and delays.” 

The project has been delayed for at least two months, according to the Associated Press, because of a leak of liquid helium caused by rising temperatures inside the experiment’s tunnel.

Development for the $6 billion project began in 1994 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Goodson said. It eventually will collide beams of protons at light speed in hopes of discovering evidence of micro-blackholes, the theoretical particle the Higgs boson and other phenomena that would give scientists insight into the creation of the universe.

“The consequence of Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc^2, is that matter, or particles, can be both created and destroyed,” Goodson said. “The entire purpose of the LHC is to take advantage of that fact.”

The logistics of the experiment are mind-boggling, Goodson said.

The tunnel in which the proton beams will be shot at each other is 16.7 miles in circumference, buried 55 to 190 yards beneath the earth and must be cooled to 1.9 degrees Celsius above absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature.

Each energized beam of protons carries enough energy to vaporize 220 pounds of ice and runs up an annual electric bill of $30 million.

Goodson said his contribution to the experiment is developing and trouble-shooting algorithms for one of the detection tools used at the points of collision so the tool can pick up as many otherwise undetectable particles as possible.

Not bad for a kid whose interest in physics didn’t go beyond science fiction stories until he checked out a physics book for some light reading during his junior year of high school.

“That book revealed to me that physics was where the most fundamental and interesting aspects of reality are explored,” Goodson said.

He pursued his newfound interest at the University of Colorado, where he graduated with a degree in physics and math, and he was accepted into the graduate physics program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The collider experiment gives him the opportunity to see the world, Goodson said, and it is likely to result in new physics.

“Many of us would say that it would be more interesting to discover something other than what has been predicted, as it would force us to come up with newer, bolder ideas,” he said.

The first scheduled beam collision is set for Oct. 21, Goodson said, but it could happen sooner. The power of the beams will be increased slowly, he said, and they probably won’t be able to detect new particles until next spring.

Goodson said he probably will remain with the project for quite some time because the United States has fallen from its dominance in physics exploration because of lack of funding for projects similar to the LHC.

“We, the United States, have squandered opportunities like this before,” Goodson said. “I’d hate to see the U.S. miss out on another opportunity to explore the frontier of physics.”


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