Atom Smashing with your Motorola phone!

by Peter_vdL Motorola 10-17-2011 11:20 AM - edited 10-17-2011 06:59 PM

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night wondering “how did an infinitesimal kernel of unimaginable energy become everything that exists?” Well, sure, who hasn't?  But you can go back to sleep, because the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) team, at CERN in Europe, has got your back on that one.


CERN is a high-achievement place - CERN invented the World Wide Web and gave it to the world.  CERN was in the news recently because it looked like they’d found a superluminal (faster than light) particle.  Ever since, physicists have been very busy trying to explain or refute that possibility.  One of the best explanation attempts came from four professors in a paper titled “Can apparent superluminal neutrino speeds be explained as a quantum weak measurement?”   The abstract of the paper, in full, read:

            Probably not.

The CERN crowd can’t go back in time to the Big Bang and watch it happen, so they do the next best thing:  recreating conditions at the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang.  The heart of the mystery is the question of where mass comes from. One of the possible explanations predicts the existence of what’s called the Higgs boson, an unusually massive elementary particle.


If this as-yet-unobserved particle can be found, our understanding of why some particles have mass and others don’t (and ultimately of the processes that led from the Big Bang to the universe we know today) will be significantly advanced.  And if the Higgs Boson turns out to be a fanciful fiction, then Prof Higgs won't get to meet the King of Sweden, but our knowledge will also be significantly advanced; just in a very different direction.


This is where the LHC, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator (i.e. “atom smasher”), comes in. About the only way they have of reproducing conditions that are predicted to give rise to the Higgs boson is to fire protons at each other at extreme speeds.  The LHC does this on a huge scale -- the main accelerator is a circular tunnel over 17 miles long that uses electromagnets to push protons to almost the speed of light.  And with an extraordinary array of detectors, it measures the trajectories and energies of all the elementary particles that come flying out of the collisions.   (Some say this approach is like trying to discover the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch by slamming two of them together and examining all the bits and pieces!)


The LHSee app written by Oxford physics PhD researcher Chris Boddy, lets you see live results from experiments being run at the Large Hadron Collider.   Chris explained that the idea for the app arose out of a conversation over coffee.   The next thing he knew, his supervisor had written a grant application to fund him for just 40 days to create the app.


The opening screen of the LHSee app is an overhead view of the Large Hadron Collider


Chris is an experienced C++/Python/Linux programmer, and this is his first foray into Android.  As a result, he didn’t use an IDE like MOTODEV Studio, but he expressed enthusiasm for Studio’s code snippets feature for future work.  The finished app is 9.5K lines of Java and 1.1K lines of XML, which, given the brief schedule, is an heroic world class programming  achievement on Chris’s part.  The Open GL model of the collider is a wireframe, partly because Chris ran out of time to wrap textures around it, although also partly because it seems easier for users to understand.


The video streaming in LHSee uses the Android VideoView class with a MediaController. That activity is <100 lines and it streams video! Chris looked at alternatives for this (like the YouTube app, or the browser) and found that using the Real Time Streaming Protocol (giving the MediaController an RTSP link) was by far the best approach. Streaming over HTTP proved less reliable.  Chris made extensive use of the Application Exerciser Monkey for testing the UI.


This version of the software is not open source, but Chris tells us he has ambitions for version two, with many features suggested by users.  In the meantime, download the free LHSee, join in the hunt for the elusive Higgs boson, and help particle physicists push forward our understanding of the universe.


Brent Gossett and Peter van der Linden

Android Technology Evangelists

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