How long would it take the LHC to defrost a pizza?

Forget black holes. Here's the real question about the Large Hadron Collider: How fast could it defrost a pizza?

The forward thinking editors at Scientific American was all over this question in the June 2007 issue. Our staff made an estimate based on the rate and energy of particle collisions when the machine's two beams meet head on. (SA actually considered lead ion beams—which the LHC will begin circulating in a few years—which would impart more energy than colliding protons.)

But the collision frequency refers to how often the beam particles run into other tiny beam particles, not pizza molecules, notes Peter Steinberg of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., a member of the US/LHC group blog. He suggests using the electric current of the beam to get its power (energy imparted per second).

According to an old Cosmic Variance post, the power of one of the LHC's proton beams at full energy is 10 trillion watts (TW). (A watt is a joule of energy per second.) A household microwave produces 500 to 1000 watts of power. Let's call it 700 watts. And defrosting a frozen pizza takes about six minutes*. So that's

        700 joules/sec x 360 sec = 252,000 joules of energy needed to defrost a pizza


        252,000 joules / 10^13 joules per second = 3x10^-8 second for the LHC to defrost a pizza

That's 30 nanoseconds (billionths of a second).

Not that anyone would be impatient to scarf it down. "I'm getting nauseous thinking about anyone eating the thing," says Steinberg, who is in no way responsible for errors in my calculation.

Of course, this all assumes the beam energy could be spread across the surface of the pizza. In reality, the beam would drill into the pizza, Steinberg says. That potential for damage is why workers are very careful about maneuvering the proton beam.

In 2003, a magnet failure at the Tevatron at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., bore a hole in one piece of the beam pipe and dug a 30-centimeter groove in another. The machine was back up and running in two weeks.

Image credit: Jon Sullivan

*SOURCE: DiGiorno's Microwave Rising Crust Four-Cheese Pizza


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