Science is all around us … and thus so are the opportunities to fact drop on our loved ones. Keep that in mind when you take your children, partners or friends to see The Muppet Movie, which was released in North America last week and is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom on February 17, 2012.
In the movie, Kermit the Frog sets to reunite his gang of muppets, and his journey takes him all the way to CERN, on the border of Switzerland and France, where he finds Dr Bunsen Honeydew (the absent-minded but extremely intelligent muppet. You can tell this because he’s wearing a labcoat and glasses - but doesn't have any eyes) and Bunsen's long-suffering assistant Beaker.
Bunsen and Beaker are no strangers to fame. In a 2004 Internet poll sponsored by the BBC and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Beaker and Dr Bunsen Honeydew were voted Britain's favorite cinematic scientists. They beat Star Trek’s Mr. Spock for the title, and claimed 33% of the 43,000 votes cast.
After their rise to fame on The Muppet Show, Bunsen (who has invented several nifty devices, like his foolproof gorilla detector) and Beaker (who usually has to endure injury-inducing experimental testing of said devices) have taken up posts at CERN, and by the looks of the scene in question (below), they were working for the ATLAS detector, one of four detectors, and the largest, that are part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Ninety-two meters underground, the 7,000-tonne ATLAS detector turns the debris from a proton-proton collision into data containing information about any particle’s track and its energy. An on-site computing farm (somewhere above where the muppets are standing) instantly discards all the uninteresting collisions – keeping the data of about five in a million. Even after the vast majority of data is thrown away, ATLAS (and another detector, CMS) still produce about 300 MB of data every second.
While that is a lot, it’s not as much when the LHC collides heavy ions of lead instead of protons. Because these ions have a lot more fundamental particles in them, the number of particles that need to be detected after the collision increases dramatically. Since November 6 2011, the Large Hadron Collider has been colliding these lead ions, and is taking data from the ALICE and CMS detectors at around 2 GB per second. The lead ion collisions will last for approximately a month.
This data – whether it be from proton-proton collisions or lead ion collisions – is then sent to a vast global network known as the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, which contains about 250,000 processing cores distributed across 36 countries, one of the world’s most sophisticated data-taking and analysis systems.
Unfortunately, a few of these scientific gems had to be left out of The Muppet Movie. [And at least one unscientific gem was added: in the movie, part of the ATLAS detector is spinning, which, if this were to occur, would cause serious damage to all the carefully laid out parts and cables.] No doubt Beaker and Bunsen knew all about sophisticated data management system from their stint at CERN, and now you can share it with your movie-going partner as well.