Tomorrow, September 10, 2008, the first beam of protons will travel around the 27 kilometer circular tunnel which is part of the latest, largest particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at CERN on the Swiss/French border. This will be the first full test of the controlling strength of the 1232 superconducting magnets which run the length of the tunnel. Just as astronomers call the first test of a telescope, "First Light," high energy physicists are calling this "First Beam."
I'm very interested in this as a physicist, but LHC also interests me as a physicist who happens to do IT. With its 15 petabyte/year (a petabyte is a million gigabytes) needs, LHC has been viewed as the harbinger of a new era of data acquisition and storage. LHC will not only advance particle physics, but storage, networking, and information science. Scientific American has an article about this including the last time CERN revolutionized information science (i.e. the World Wide Web). Wired Magazine devoted its July Issue to The Petabyte Age and the journal Nature just published a special section on "Big Data."
LHC is only the first in a new generation of petabyte devices which will strain our ability as IT professionals to support them. This growing list includes a few experiments/devices which involve Penn State faculty for example Advanced LIGO, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), and the new generation of medial imaging devices. Supporting these devices will require the coordinated efforts of ITS, Penn State Research, the University Libraries, and subject specialists.
We're at the beginning of a very long journey, but this is why I remain enthusiastic about my job and about Penn State.