A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Web-watching the LHC experiments

01/15/09

Particle physics must be doing something right to break free of its you'll-never-understand-this stereotype that keeps non-physicists at bay. Or perhaps people just really like the looks of the cathedral-size, multicolor particle detectors made up of nearly incomprehensible amounts of metal, wire, plastic, and tubing which give the CMS detector a weight equivalent to 30 jumbo jets or 2500 African elephants.

Either way, it's a great coup that two of the Large Hadrons Collider experiments ended up on the list of best Web cams for 2008. The list was complied by EarthCam.com with the help of judges from around the globe. The nine CMS Web cams and the four ATLAS Web cams earn a spot among high-action, mainstream Web cams showing skateboarding and surfing tricks as well as voyeuristic views of famous landmarks including the entryway to Anne Frank's former hideout.

It's unclear exactly how many Web cams exist, but since their arrival on the popular culture scene in 1991 their use has proliferated to inhabit almost every avenue of daily life. You can use Web cams as a form of home security, and some cities use them to monitor crime on urban streets. Web cams dominate workplace videoconferencing, adult entertainment, and the new realm of "lifecasting" where everyday people (and B-list stars) do everyday activities for the world to view. Tourist offices and social activists use Web cams as marketing tools.

For an esoteric science experiment to stand out among all that cyberspace noise is quite an accomplishment and shows that lay people are more interested in basic research science that many politicians give them credit for.

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