May 14, 2008
As long as we're on a science kick this week: scrounge up some dipole magnets and build your own BRAHMS detector! Point it at any piece of music, and the resulting electro-magnetic field will measure the harmonic gravity, classicist formality, and preponderance of shifting triple subdivisions to determine if it is, in fact, a piece by Brahms.
No, of course that's not what it is. The Broad Range Hadron Magnetic Spectrometer is part of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in upstate New York. RHIC is currently the most powerful heavy-ion collider in the world, and while that title will be taken over by CERN's Large Hadron Collider later this year, RHIC will still maintain the lead in accelerating spin-polarized protons.
If you're not a rabid particle accelerator fan, know that this is a big deal because RHIC is able to produce conditions not seen in the universe since 10 millionths of a second after the Big Bang, when the whole place was filled with a quark-gluon pudding unlike any form of matter that currently prevails. (RHIC also seems to produce imitation black holes.) BRAHMS was designed to measure the momentum of scattered hadrons, part of the study of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), investigating the strong force that holds atomic nuclei together.
There were initial fears that the possibility of creating actual black holes meant that RHIC would be some sort of doomsday device; there's even a sci-fi novel set around the BRAHMS detector—Gregory Benford's Cosm, in which physicist Alicia Butterworth wants to spectrometrically measure collisions of uranium ions, but ends up creating a couple of new universes and a lot of havoc in the process. All that sounds more like Wagner than Brahms, so I guess there's not a lot of subversive connections to be found. Still, lest you think the name is just a coincidence, the team does devote a page of their website to all things Johannes.
Posted by Matthew at 10:10 AM