As its name suggests, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN smashes hadrons into one another – protons, to be precise. The energy from these collisions gets converted into matter, producing new particles that allow us to explore matter at the smallest scales. The LHC does not fire protons into one another individually; instead, they are circulated in approximately 2000 bunches each containing around 100 billion protons. When two bunches are focused magnetically to cross each other in the centre of detectors such as CMS and ATLAS, only 30 or so protons actually collide. The rest continue to fly through the LHC unimpeded until the next time that two bunches cross.
With scientists increasingly asked to engage the public and society-at-large with their research, and include outreach plans as part of grant applications, it helps to have a guide to various involvement possibilities and the research behind them. The second edition of the Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (henceforth referred to as “the Handbook”) provides a thorough introduction to public engagement – or outreach, as it is sometimes called – through a varied collection of articles on the subject. In particular, it brings to attention the underlying issues associated with the old “deficit model of science communication”, which presupposes a knowledge deficit about science among the general public that must be filled by scientists providing facts, and facts alone. Although primarily targeting science-communication practitioners and academics researching the field, the Handbook can also help scientists to reflect on their outreach efforts and to appreciate the interplay between science and society.
Three years after resuming operation at a centre-of-mass energy of 7 TeV in 2010 and ramping up to 8 TeV last year, the LHC is now taking a break for its first long shutdown, LS1. During the long period of highly successful running, the CMS collaboration took advantage of the accelerator’s superb performance to produce high-quality results in a variety of physics analyses, the most significant of which being the joint discovery with ATLAS of a new, Higgs-boson-like particle in July 2012.
When the LHC operates at peak luminosity, about a 1000 million interactions will be produced and detected each second at the heart of the CMS experiment. However, only a tiny fraction of these events will be of major importance. As in many particle-physics experiments, a trigger system selects the most interesting physics in real time so that data from just a few of the collisions are recorded. The remaining events – the vast majority – are discarded and cannot be recovered later. The trigger system, therefore, in effect determines the physics potential of the experiment for ever.