Skip to main content

Free online: Full documentation for the Large Hadron Collider

Figure 2.1: Schematic layout of the LHC

Figure 2.1: Schematic layout of the LHC

Want to read every single technical detail of the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider and its six detectors?  The whole shebang--seven reports totalling 1600 pages, with contributions from 8000 scientists and engineers--is available here, published electronically by the Journal of Instrumentation.

According to Friday's CERN Bulletin:

For many years to come, these papers will serve as key references for the stream of scientific results that will begin to emerge from the LHC after the first collisions that are expected later this year.  Although published in a refereed scientific journal, the articles will be completely free to download and to read on the Internet under an "Open Access" scheme, without requiring a journal subscription.

"This is a landmark publication in many respects," says ATLAS physicist Rudiger Voss, who has coordinated the project since it started in late 2005.  "It is probably the first time in the history of particle physics that a major new accelerator project has been documented in such a comprehensive, coherent and up-to-date manner before it goes into operation."

Another long, boring technical document to gather virtual dust on virtual shelves?

Not at all, judging from the continued popularity of The Stanford Two-Mile Accelerator, affectionately known as The Blue Book, which was published in 1968 to preserve the knowledge and experience gained in building the SLAC linac. The recent struggle to make it available to a wide audience shows what a milestone the open-access publication of the LHC documentation is.

Most copies of The Blue Book had vanished from the SLAC Library, and the librarians wanted to make it available electronically.  But they ran into a snag: No one could figure out who owned the copyright, so there was no one to give permission to put it on the Web.

"It's an orphan work," SLAC archivist Jean Deken told me Friday. The original publisher was bought by another, which was bought by another, and so on. Finally, with the help of an expert from Stanford Law School, librarian Abraham Wheeler tracked down the current owner of the copyright--which said that since it could not find any documentation on the book, it could not grant permission to reproduce it.

After much legal head-scratching it was decided that SLAC could post the book online, which it did last summer. You can read about the copyright saga here, and browse the book here.

So when Deken learned that the LHC documentation had been posted online, she said, "I think it's great."

She said the folks who still want access to SLAC's Blue Book after all these years are "people who are doing research on accelerator technology--a lot of International Linear Collider people who want to see what were the issues people faced for this accelerator and how to go about solving them. I assume it's the same type of thing with the LHC. It's the biggest high-energy physics experiment in the world now, so it's a way for people, even if they're not there physically at CERN, to still keep up with it and study it."

I wrote about open access in particle physics for the October/November 2007 issue of symmetry.  According to the CERN Bulletin, the LHC documentation is "the most significant manifestation" yet of CERN's open-access policy.