Archive for March, 2010

March 31, 2010

Legal snares hinder expansion

While firms in Thailand are increasingly drawn to growing investment opportunities in neighbouring countries, they sometimes overlook crucial legal issues, says David Doran, chairman and founding partner of DFDL Mekong (Thailand).

Thai firms need to check their paperwork, says David Doran of DFDL Mekong.

In more than 15 years of legal practice in the Mekong region he has seen businesses make many mistakes that could have been easily avoided through proper legal procedures.

“Thai businessmen can be very close with Cambodian, Myanmar or Lao businessmen. Sometimes, they rely too strongly on the connection and relationship,” said Mr Doran.

“I don’t want to downgrade the importance of the personal relationship, because it’s also very important. However, you shouldn’t rely too much on it, but more on the law and the contract.”

Without the right documentation, businesses are at risk if disputes develop with foreign governments or firms.

Investments can also be jeopardised by changes in government, which can weaken relationships with officials, he said. Although Laos has a one-party system, its officials change quite often. Cambodia also has elections every five years.

“You need to have a strong understanding of the legal system and strong legal documentation in addition to a strong relationship with the local partners and good connections with the government,” he added.

Business laws are among the many factors that determine the investment environment for foreign investors. For instance, Cambodia places few restrictions on foreign investment while Vietnam tends to protect the interests of local parties more carefully, he said.

Setting up a firm in Cambodia is quite easy and can take only two to three weeks. Investors need not apply to an investment board for a licence, as they do in Thailand, Laos or Burma. It is also easy to get information and meet officials.

But foreign investors can need four to six months to set up their businesses in Burma and Laos. Yet the Lao government – while basing its policy, like Vietnam, on developing the country’s economy – has laws and decrees that aid foreign investors and attract investment.

Vietnam has one of the region’s most restricted markets for foreign investors, with tight limits on equity foreign investors can hold in sectors such as retail.

“Each country has its difficulties but also has benefits. If you know what the attraction is, then you can focus on that to open the doors,” said Mr Doran.

In his view, Thailand could benefit from reassessing its regulations in some sectors to encourage foreign investments.

“Most Thai businesses are quite good at competing with their foreign counterparts. Many areas no longer need to be protected,” he said.

For example, as Thai firms are adept at resort development, foreigners’ ownership rights and lease terms could be revised, he said. Letting foreign owners renew their leases or take leases for 50 years, rather than the current 30 years, could attract foreign business.

But on grounds of national security, Mr Doran would oppose allowing foreigners to buy land in Thailand.

False assumptions about the Mekong region also lead investors astray. Thai firms and other foreign investors can view countries in the Mekong region as new markets just opened to investment, which makes them disregard local laws.

“They do not take legal compliance in these countries as seriously as they would when investing in their own countries,” he said.

Tax and labour compliance are among the key areas investors should be aware of, along with the availability of financing.

“It’s a problem that sometimes investors don’t focus on that aspect. They assume that banks in Laos or Cambodia will lend to them on the same basis as Thai banks. They don’t understand the necessary criteria,” said Mr Doran.

Investors must ensure proper documentation of aspects such as contracts and investment licensing for their projects to get financial support from local banks.

Relate Search: David Doran, DFDL Mekong

About the author

columnist
Writer: Pornnalat Prachyakorn
Position: Business Reporter
March 31, 2010

Dam Work Continues on Eve of Mekong Conference

http://www.irrawaddy.org/highlight.php?art_id=18168

http://www.irrawaddy.org/highlight.php?art_id=18168&page=2

BANGKOK — Chinese construction and electricity companies have controversially begun work on hydroelectric dams in Burma and Cambodia on the eve of a regional conference dedicated to “addressing future challenges in trans-boundary water resources management.”

Another controversial hydroelectric dam has just begun pumping electricity out of Laos into Thailand.

Cambodia fishermen work on their fishing boat on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Reuters)

The pace of hydroelectric dam projects is picking up across Southeast Asia at a time when their social value and threat to an environment already under stress from climate change is being questioned by many experts.But the Mekong Rivers Commission, comprising Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, is meeting in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin on Friday for a two-day conference to celebrate its 15 years existence.

Government officials from China and Burma have been invited to what is widely seen as a very political gathering—with environmentalists saying
billions of US dollars are being committed to rashly harnessing delicate river systems on which millions of people depend.

“Extensive plans for hydro power development threaten the ecological integrity of the entire Mekong basin, and will undermine the food security and livelihoods of millions of people that depend on the region’s rivers’ natural wealth,” Carl Middleton of the US-based NGO International Rivers Network told The Irrawaddy.

“These projects epitomize an out-dated and unsustainable mode of development that violates affected people’s rights and fails to ensure equitable and sustainable development,” he said.

Middleton is a co-organizer of an alternative environmental conference being held at the Mekong Studies Center of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. to coincide with the “official” rivers meeting in Hua Hin. It has attracted 12 NGOs.

Political leaders in some of the countries where hydroelectric schemes are being built or planned argue that the electricity will bring benefits to poor people who now have no access to anything as simple as an electric light switch.

That’s the view of the Cambodian government, which gave the green light to two hydroelectric dams to be built by Chinese firms at a cost of about US $1.1 billion.

The dams will be built in Koh Kong province west of Phnom Penh but there is a suspicion that some of the 580 megawatts of capacity planned might be sold across the border to Thailand.

Critics of the MRC argue that it has failed to communicate with the people most affected by dams.

Mean Meach, of the 3S Rivers Protection Network working with dam-affected communities along the Sesan, Srepok, and Sekong rivers in northeast Cambodia, said: “It would be beneficial if the MRC were more proactive on promoting issues of public participation, inclusion of indigenous people, and transparency.

“Improvements in technology and policy now make renewable electricity a viable option [to hydroelectric dams] in developing countries.”

To the west of Thailand meanwhile, just inside the Burmese border, work has begun on the biggest hydroelectric dam ever to be built in the region—the massive 7,100 megawatt capacity Tasang project on the Salween River.

Again, Chinese state firms are involved. They took over the $9 billion development after a Thai firm failed to get the project under way.

Most of the electricity from this dam was originally earmarked for Thailand , certainly not impoverished Burma, which has one of the lowest levels of electricity availability in the world for a country of its size and population.

Now, however, it’s believed by observers that much of the power will be pumped to China’s neighboring Yunnan province, where a central government ban on many hydroelectric dam projects has been imposed.

Earlier dams on the Yunnan section of the Mekong are being blamed for record low water levels on the river downstream, exacerbated by a severe drought.

Researcher Jeff Rutherford, who several years ago made a furtive tour of Yunnan’s dam projects (some now aborted) for a Chiang Mai University project, is not surprised by China’s increasing involvement in hydro dam work, especially in Burma.

“It’s business. It’s dirty, murderous business, but it has a certain twisted logic,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“It’s a kind of environmental dumping.

When the Thais closed their forests to logging in the late 1980s, no one said anything about cutting back on wood or paper. The logging industry just jumped across the border into Burma, where the generals are only too eager to exchange trees for money to buy arms.”Longtime Burma watcher Sean Turnell is pessimistic about the prospect of any positive outcome from the Hua Hin conference for people whose land and livelihoods are at risk from river developments.

“It stretches credulity that the MRC conference can achieve anything much at all,” said Turnell, an economics professor at Australia’s Macquarie University and compiler of the Burma Economic Watch.

Given the track record of the participating countries, he said, “maintaining existing livelihoods, ecosystems and biodiversity is unlikely when placed against insatiable and much more profitable demands for hydro-generated electricity.”

——————————————————————

China Denies Cutting off Water to SE Asia
By CHI-CHI ZHANG / AP WRITER

BEIJING — China denied Wednesday it has “hijacked” water from the Mekong River, causing its lowest levels in 20 years for areas downstream in Southeast Asia.

Liu Ning, vice minister of water resources, suggested that China’s dams and irrigation projects upstream have actually helped stave off some of the effects of drought — though it was not clear whether he was referring just to parched areas of southwest China or the wider region.

The Mekong River, which originates in the Tibetan Plateau, is at its lowest level in nearly two decades, halting cargo traffic on the waterway that is the lifeblood for 65 million people in Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Mekong River Commission.

Nongovernmental organizations have long blamed China for shrinking the Mekong and causing other ecological damage. China has built several dams on the upper reaches of the river and has more planned.

“We cannot say that China hijacked water resources and contributed to the drought,” Liu told a news conference when asked about the effect of China’s water projects on the water supply in Southeast Asia.

“If there were no irrigation facilities and reservoirs built in drought areas, the drought would have come earlier, the situation would have been more severe, and there would have been more people suffering from a lack of drinking water,” Liu said.

He did not specify which areas he meant.

Liu emphasized the need to step up the construction of more water conservancy projects to insure adequate drinking water.

He said neighboring countries are aware of China’s measures and China will discuss with groups like the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental organization that oversees the sustainable development of the river basin.

“The building and use of hydropower plants will only be done based on scientific evidence, and this process is very strict in China,” said Liu, who is also secretary-general of the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters.

Little rainfall since late last year in southwest China has left millions of residents facing water shortages in that region’s worst drought in a century. About 24 million people, twice more than in the same period during normal years, face drinking water shortages, Liu said.

“We should prepare to fight a long drought … to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou regions have been the hardest hit by the drought despite teams of workers drilling for wells and transporting drinking water, Liu said.

Liu said the severity of this year’s drought was due to a decline in rainfall, low river flows, higher temperatures, and inadequate water storage facilities and is likely to continue until mid- to late May, when the rainy season begins.

March 30, 2010

Country profile: Lao PDR

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1154621.stm

Laos, one of the world’s few remaining communist states, is one of east Asia’s poorest countries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 it has struggled to find its position within a changing political and economic landscape.

Communist forces overthrew the monarchy in 1975, heralding years of isolation. Laos began opening up to the world in the 1990s, but despite tentative reforms, it remains poor and dependent on international donations.

Overview

The government has implemented gradual economic and business reforms since 2005 to somewhat liberalize its domestic markets. Its longterm plans for reform include high-profile projects such as the Nam Theun 2 power project.

Thailand is the largest foreign investor in Laos. While this support is badly needed, the dangers of exposing Laos’s fragile economy to world trends are clear.

AT A GLANCE
Pha That Luang stupa in Vientiane - a national symbol
Politics: Ruling communists maintain a monopoly of political power
Economy: One of the world’s poorest nations, Laos has little industry and relies on foreign aid; hopes are pinned on a hydroelectric project
International: Communist regime is backed by China and Vietnam

The Asian currency crisis of 1997 caused the national currency, the kip, to lose more than nine-tenths of its value against the US dollar.

Laos is a landlocked, mountainous country, widely covered by largely unspoilt tropical forest. Less than 5% of the land is suitable for subsistence agriculture, which nevertheless provides around 80% of employment.

The main crop is rice, which is grown on the fertile floodplain of the Mekong River. Vegetables, fruit, spices and cotton are also grown. Part of the region’s heroin-producing “Golden Triangle”, Laos has all but stamped out opium production.

Outside the capital, many people live without electricity or access to basic facilities. But Laos is banking on the anticipated returns from a billion-dollar dam scheme, intended to generate electricity for export to Thailand, to boost its economy and infrastructure.

Several small bomb blasts in recent years in and around the capital, Vientiane, have suggested that opposition to the ruling party may be growing. But any public dissent is dealt with harshly by the authorities.

The country’s human rights record has come under scrutiny. Laos denies accusations of abuses by the military against the ethnic minority Hmong. Hmong groups have been fighting a low-level rebellion against the communist regime since 1975.

Facts

  • Full name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  • Population: 6.3 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Vientiane
  • Area: 236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Lao, French (for diplomatic purposes)
  • Major religion: Buddhism
  • Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 new kip = 100 ath
  • Main exports: Clothing, timber products, coffee, gold, copper, electricity
  • GNI per capita: US $740 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .la
  • International dialling code: +856

Leaders

President: Choummaly Sayasone

Choummaly Sayasone

Communist rule continues under Choummaly Sayasone

Choummaly Sayasone, the head of the ruling communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), was appointed by the National Assembly to succeed Khamtay Siphandon as president in June 2006.

He took over the party leadership from the octogenarian former president in March.

The LPRP is the only legal political party in Laos and holds 98 of the 99 seats in the assembly.

Mr Sayasone is seen as a staunch ally of his predecessor, who served three terms and oversaw the country’s entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 1997.

Choummaly Sayasone, who was born in 1936 in southern Laos, is a former defence minister and vice president.

Media

The ruling communists maintain strict control over the media. The government owns all newspapers and broadcast media. Newspaper circulation figures are very low.

Slandering the state, distorting party policies and spreading false rumours are all criminal offences. A draft law which would allow the development of private media has not been implemented.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders noted in 2008 that the majority of the media “only puts out news that is favourable to the communist regime”. The group said many Laotian viewers watch TV stations from neighbouring Thailand.

There were some 100,000 internet users by March 2008 (ITU figure).

The press

Television

  • Lao National TV (TVNL) – state-run
  • Laos Television 3 – joint venture with Thai company

Radio

News agency

  • KPL – state-run



March 30, 2010

Questions linger in Vietnam War death

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/military/6934333.html

38 years after he disappeared over Laos, mom finds little comfort in learning son’s fate

By LINDSAY WISE
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Nell Miller Smith lost 50 pounds the first six weeks her son was missing.

“I could hardly eat, thinking of him, and whether he was hungry,” Smith said.

Her son, Air Force Maj. Curtis Daniel Miller, was part of a 14-man air crew aboard an AC-130A Spectre gunship that was shot down during a reconnaissance mission over southern Laos on March 29, 1972.

The 25-year-old pilot, known as Dan, was listed as missing in action.

Smith and her husband comforted themselves with reports that the Air Force had picked up beeps from emergency beacons near the crash site, indicating that at least some of the gunship’s crew had survived.

“We just knew we would be getting a call any minute that he’d gotten out of there,” Smith said.

That call never came.

Nearly four decades later, forensic scientists from the Department of Defense used mitochondrial DNA analysis to identify bone fragments excavated at the crash site as her son’s. His remains have been returned to his native Texas to be buried this afternoon at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, with full military honors, 38 years to the day that he went missing.

But for Smith, the funeral offers no closure. Not with so many questions still unanswered.

“It won’t be over for me till I’m in my grave,” she said in an interview at her Huntsville home last week.

• • • •

Dan Miller grew up in Palacios on the Texas Gulf coast, the oldest of three children born to Paul Miller, owner of a machine and welding shop, and Smith, a nurse.

He joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where he also met his future wife, Susan. The couple married in 1966, while still in college. She was 19 and he was 21.

“He was mischievous and smart and just full of life,” said Susan Miller, now a junior high school teacher in Azle.

He graduated in 1968 and accepted a commission in the Air Force. A year later, Susan gave birth to their daughter, Christy.

In 1971, he deployed to southeast Asia to fly missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a key supply route for North Vietnam.

After he went missing, his relatives crisscrossed the country to meet with the National League of POW/MIA Families and lobby elected officials to pressure the Laotian government for information. They held vigils and participated in letter-writing campaigns.

“That’s all we could think about, eat sleep and breathe, that boy,” Smith said. “Where was he?”

Smith said she used to dream about her son.

“I could see him out here on a boat, and I was trying to get to him, and I just woke up crying and screaming so many times,” Smith said. “I just wanted to do what I could to help him, but we were so helpless.”

She invented scenarios that fed her worst fears and best hopes. Was her son living in a cave in the jungle, or enduring torture in a POW camp? Maybe he had made friends with the Laotians and started a new life in a village somewhere.

“Of course I know I’m grasping at straws,” she said. “I’m a mother.”

Her husband flew to Laos in the fall of 1973 with 51 other family members of missing service members against the advice of the Department of State. He handed out photos of his son and got within 20 miles of the crash site, but armed men turned him back.

He died in 1974 after four heart bypasses.

Smith remarried and moved to Huntsville in 1975. She and other family members continued to attend POW/MIA conferences where they would sift through reams of military reports and microfiche records, looking for clues.

• • • •

The mystery of her son’s fate deepened in 1983, when the Air Force returned the missing pilot’s wedding ring to his wife. They told Susan Miller a Laotian refugee had sold the ring for $400 to a TV news reporter, who turned it over to the military. The refugee had said he found it in the jungle near the crash site. Inscribed “Forever Love Sue,” the 14K gold band was in perfect condition.

Smith figured that if her son had died in the burning wreckage of his plane, the ring would have melted. “That tells me he got out of that plane,” she said.

To this day, Smith believes the U.S. government did not do enough to recover living POWs from Laos.

“I am bitter,” she admitted. “Time has gone on so long now that most likely most of them are dead, and I think that some of them died while our elected officials were sitting on their hands doing nothing.”

Her daughter-in-law is more circumspect. Susan Miller said the U.S. government never forgot her husband or anyone else who went missing in action. To her, the DNA results and today’s funeral represent the end of a long grieving cycle and she’s grateful for the opportunity to say goodbye.

“I love him as much today as I did the day I married him,” she said. “At least now I have gone from the status of wife to widow. Only the government could make that decision. I never could.”

• • • •

There are more than 1,700 military personnel still missing from the Vietnam War, including 341 in Laos. Department of Defense specialists identify an average of 75 remains a year, said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Defense POW/Missing personnel office. More than 80 percent of the identifications are made using mitochondrial DNA analysis, a technique that uses DNA from a person’s mother to make an exact match.

He said most family members react to the news with a mixture of sorrow and relief, but some, like Smith, find it difficult to accept the military’s evidence as definitive proof of death after so many years of uncertainty.

Smith plans to fly a black POW/MIA flag in her front yard until it shreds, but she said her son’s funeral means the military will not be looking for him any more, and she must accept she’ll never know exactly what happened to him.

After so many years of searching and hoping, this is not the ending she wanted.

“The thing that was almost killing me was him being missing,” she said, “but the thing that was keeping me going was him being missing, and that he needed me.”

lindsay.wise@chron.com

March 30, 2010

Cern LHC sees high-energy success – “เซิร์น” เพิ่มกำลังเดินเครื่องพร้อมไขปริศนาจักรวาล

CMS detector

The CMS is one of four giant detectors at the Large Hadron Collider

Cached page: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8593780.stm

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has produced the first record-breaking high-energy particle collisions.

Scientists working on the European machine have successfully smashed beams of proton particles together at unprecedented energies.

This marks the beginning of work that could lead to the discovery of fundamental new physics.

There was cheering and applause in the LHC control room as the first collisions were confirmed.

LHC EXPLAINED
Detail from Large Hadron Collider explainer graphic

These seven-trillion-electronvolt (TeV) collisions have initiated 18-24 months of intensive investigations at the LHC.

Scientists hope the studies will bring novel insights into the nature of the cosmos and how it came into being.

Many of them have described Tuesday’s event as the beginning of a “new era in science”.

But researchers caution that the data gathered from the sub-atomic impacts will take time to evaluate, and the public should not expect immediate results.

“Major discoveries will happen only when we are able to collect billions of events and identify among them the very rare events that could present a new state of matter or new particles,” said Guido Tonelli, a spokesman for the CMS detector at the LHC.

“This is not going to happen tomorrow. It will require months and years of patient work,” he told BBC News.

The LHC is one of the biggest scientific endeavours ever undertaken.

WHAT IS AN ELECTRON VOLT?
Particle interaction simulation (SPL)
Charged particles tend to speed up in an electric field, defined as an electric potential – or voltage – spread over a distance
One electron volt (eV) is the energy gained by a single electron as it accelerates through a potential of one volt
It is a convenient unit of measure for particle accelerators, which speed particles up through much higher electric potentials
The first accelerators only created bunches of particles with an energy of about a million eV (MeV)
The LHC can reach beam energies a million times higher: up to several teraelectronvolts (TeV)
This is still only the energy in the motion of a flying mosquito
But that energy is packed into a comparatively few particles, travelling at more than 99.99% of the speed of light

Housed at Cern (the European Organization for Nuclear research) in a 27km-long tunnel under the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, the LHC successfully collided particle beams travelling at close to the speed of light.

The expectation is that previously unseen phenomena will reveal themselves in the resulting debris.

A key objective is to find the much talked-about Higgs boson particle.

This is thought to have a profound role in the structure of the Universe, and would enable scientists to explain why matter has mass – something which, at a fundamental level, they have difficulty doing at present.

The LHC broke down shortly after its opening in 2008 but, since coming back online late last year, has gradually been ramping up operations.

Two proton particle beams have been circling in opposite directions in the magnet-lined tunnels at 3.5 TeV since 19 March.

Having established their stability, these beams were allowed to cross paths and collide.

This 7 TeV event, which took place on Tuesday at 1200 BST, was the highest energy yet achieved in a particle accelerator.

The LHC’s four major experiments – its giant detectors Alice, Atlas, CMS and LHCb – have now begun to gather their first physics data from the collisions, a development that Cern described as an “historic moment”.

“This is new territory,” said Professor Tonelli.

“If you want to discover new particles, you have to produce them; and these new particles are massive. To produce them, you need higher energies. For the first time [on Tuesday], we will be producing particles that have energy 3.5 times higher than the maximum energy achieved so far.

“This is why we can start the long journey to make major discoveries in identifying a new massive state of matter.”

At the end of the 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam) experimental period, the LHC will be shut down for maintenance for up to a year. When it re-opens, it will attempt to create 14 TeV events.

Collider sees high-energy success

By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS (AP) – 59 minutes ago

GENEVA — The world’s largest atom smasher has set a record for high-energy collisions by crashing two proton beams at three times more force than ever before.

The $10 billion Large Hadron Collider directed the beams into each other Tuesday as part of its ambitious bid to reveal details about theoretical particles and microforces.

The collisions start a new era of science for researchers working on the machine below the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

Scientists at a control room at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, broke into applause when the first successful collisions were recorded. Their colleagues from around the world were tuning in by remote links.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

GENEVA (AP) — The world’s largest atom smasher was ready to start a new era of science on Tuesday, but problems delayed scientists seeking to collide the first beams of protons to learn more about the makeup of the universe and its smallest particles.

Dubbed the world’s largest scientific experiment, the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider holds the promise of revealing details about theoretical particles and microforces, scientists say.

Tuesday’s initial attempts were unsuccessful, however, because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working on the massive machine. That meant that the protons had to be “dumped” from the collider and new beams had to be injected.

“It’s a very complicated machine and we have ups and downs,” said Michael Barnett of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Right now we have a down.”

Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy in opposite directions around the 27-kilometer (17-mile) tunnel under the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

The beams were pushed to 3.5 trillion electron volts in recent days, the highest energy achieved by any physics accelerator — some three times greater than the previous record.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is now trying to use the powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of particles. They could have been successful immediately, but such huge machines can be so tricky to run that it could take days.

When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that few will collide at each crossing.

Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology, describes the challenge of lining up the beams as being akin to “firing needles across the Atlantic and getting them to collide half way.”

He said the problems Tuesday started with a power supply that tripped and had to be reset. The second time, the system designed to protect the machine shut it down. That was likely to have been a misreading by the system rather than any basic problem, said Barnett.

The collisions will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.

CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage.

The Large Hadron Collider was launched with great fanfare on Sept. 10, 2008, but it was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground.

It cost $40 million to repair and improve the machine so that it could be used again at the end of November. Since then the collider has performed almost flawlessly, giving scientists valuable data in the four-week run before Christmas. It soon eclipsed the next largest accelerator — the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.

Scientists hope also to approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director-general of CERN, has said it is likely to take months before any scientific discoveries are made, partly because computers will have to sort through massive amounts of data produced by the collisions.

Heuer said researchers hope by the end of this year to make discoveries into the dark matter that scientists believe comprises 26 percent of the universe. The better understood visible matter makes up only 4 percent of the universe.

Dark matter has been theorized by scientists to account for missing mass and bent light in faraway galaxies. Scientists believe it makes galaxies spin faster.

A separate entity called “dark energy,” making up the remaining 70 percent of the universe, is believed linked to the vacuum that is evenly distributed in space and time. It is believed to accelerate the expansion of the universe.

Other possible candidates for discovery are hidden dimensions of space and time.

Physicists have used smaller colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom’s nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles.

“เซิร์น” เร่งอนุภาคถึงพลังงานสูงสุดจับชนกันแล้วที่ 7 TeV

“เซิร์น” จับอนุภาคชนกันที่ระดับพลังงานสูงสุดแต่พลาด ลำอนุภาคไม่ชนกัน เพราะเครื่องซินโครตรอน ซึ่งทำหน้าที่ยิงลำอนุภาคเข้าเครื่องเร่งใหญ่ไม่ทำงาน ทำให้ต้องยิงใหม่อีกครั้งแต่ยังไม่ดีพอ ล่าสุดความพยายามในครั้งที่ 3 ทำให้เซิร์นสร้างสถิติชนอนุภาคที่ระดับพลังงานสูงสุดและผลิตรังสีคอสมิคได้เป็นครั้งแรกในห้องปฏิบัติการ

เอเอฟพีรายงานว่า นักวิทยาศาสตร์ที่เซิร์น (CERN) ต่างทุกข์ใจจากการทดลองเดินเครื่องเร่งอนุภาคแอลเอชซี (LHC) เพื่อบังคับให้ลำอนุภาคชนกัน ที่ระดับพลังงานสูงสุด 7 เทราอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์ (TeV) ภายในท่อที่ขดเป็นวงยาว 27 กิโลเมตร ด้วยความเร็วเข้าใกล้ความเร็วแสง เมื่อวันที่ 30 มี.ค.53 นี้ เนื่องจากลำอนุภาค 2 ลำไม่ชนกัน

“พวกเขาสูญเสียลำอนุภาคไป” คาร์สเตน เอกเกิร์ต (Karsten Eggert) นักวิทยาศาสตร์ของเซิร์นกล่าว โดยเซิร์นได้เริ่มเดินเครื่องเร่งอนุภาคให้ลำอนุภาคชนกันเมื่อเวลา 11.00 น.ตามเวลาประเทศไทย และได้พยายามอีกครั้งหลังจากนั้น 2 ชั่วโมง

ปัญหาที่เกิดขึ้น เซิร์นได้วิเคราะห์เบื้องต้นและรายงานผ่านทวิตเตอร์ (Twitter) ว่า เกิดปัญหาขึ้นกับแม่เหล็กคู่ ในวงจรหลักของเครื่องซูเปอร์โปรตอนซินโครตรอน (Super Proton Synchrotron) หรือเอสพีเอส (SPS) และเครื่องเร่งอนุภาคแอลเอชซี ไม่ใช่ผลกระทบจากการรบกวนทางไฟฟ้า ตามที่เข้าใจก่อนหน้านั้น

“เรามีปัญหาจุกจิกเล็กน้อย ซึ่งเรื่องเหล่านี้เป็นสิ่งที่เกิดขึ้นได้เมื่อคุณมีเครื่องจักรที่ซับซ้อนเช่นนี้ และอีก 1-1.5 ชั่วโมง เราจะเริ่มยิงลำอนุภาคใหม่อีกครั้ง” พอล คอลลิเออร์ (Paul Collier) หัวหน้าฝ่ายลำอนุภาคของเซิร์นกล่าว หลังการยิงลำอนุภาคครั้งแรกล้มเหลว

ทั้งนี้ เซิร์นได้บอกให้ทราบล่วงหน้าแล้วว่า การชนอนุภาคที่ระดับพลังงานสูงสุดนั้น อาจใช้เวลาหลายชั่วโมงหรือหลายวัน เพื่อบังคับอนุภาคให้อยู่ในเส้นทางที่จะพุ่งชน เมื่อพวกเขาเริ่มการทดลองทางวิทยาศาสตร์ที่ไม่มีเคยมีการทดลองมาก่อน โดยการทดลองครั้งนี้ตั้งเป้าที่พลังงานระดับสูงแต่ให้เกิดการระเบิดขนาดเล็กที่จำลองสภาพระเบิด “บิกแบง” (Big Bang) ซึ่งเป็นต้นกำเนิดจักรวาล

ด้าน สตีฟ ไมเออร์ส (Steve Myer) นักวิทยาศาสตร์อาวุโสของโครงการเปรียบเทียบว่า ความพยายามในการทดลองครั้งนี้เปรียบเหมือนการยิงเข็มจำนวนมาก ข้ามมหาสมุทรแอตแลนติก เพื่อให้เข็มเหล่านั้น ชนกันที่ระหว่างครึ่งทาง

ทั้งนี้ ความเร็วในการวิ่งวนรอบท่อของเครื่องเร่งอนุภาคนั้นเร็วกว่า “วินาที” ถึง 5,000 เท่า และการทดลองซึ่งถือเป็น “การทดลองทางฟิสิกส์ครั้งแรก” (First Physics) นี้ จะเป็นจุดเริ่มต้นของการเดินเครื่องให้อนุภาคชนกันอีกหลายพันล้านครั้งในอีก 18-24 เดือนข้างหน้า

ทั้งนี้กว่าลำอนุภาคโปรตอนจะพุ่งชนกันต้องผ่านการเร่งความเร็วหลายจุด เริ่มจากการดึงอิเล็กตรอนออกจากอะตอมของไฮโดรเจนเพื่อให้ได้ลำอนุภาคโปรตอน จากนั้นยิงเข้าสู่เครื่องเร่งอนุภาคเส้นตรง “ลิแนค2” (LINAC2) ซึ่งยิงลำโปรตอนที่มีระดับพลังงาน 50 เมกะอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์เข้าสู่เครื่องเพิ่มกำลัง “พีเอสบูสเตอร์” (PS Booster)

เครื่องเพิ่มกำลังพีเอสจะเร่งลำอนุภาคให้มีพลังงาน 1.4 กิกะอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์ก่อนส่งต่อไปยังเครื่องโปรตอนซินโครตรอน (Proton Synchrotron: PS) ซึ่งเร่งให้ลำอนุภาคมีพลังงานเพิ่มขึ้นเป็น 25 กิกะอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์ จากนั้นโปรตอนจะส่งต่อไปยังเครื่องซูเปอร์โปรตรอนซินโครตรอน (Super Proton Synchrotron: SPS) เพื่อเร่งพลังงานเป็น 450 กิกะอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์ แล้วยิงเข้าท่อแอลเอชซีในทิศทวนเข็มและตามเข็มนาฬิกา และลำอนุภาคจะวิ่งวนอยู่ 20 นาทีก่อนที่ระดับพลังงานจะถึง 7 เทราอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์

หลังจากยิงลำอนุภาคครั้งที่ 2 แต่ยังไม่ประสบความสำเร็จ ล่าสุดเซิร์นได้เร่งลำอนุภาคครั้งที่ 3 ซึ่งสามารถเร่งให้พลังงานลำอนุภาค 2 ลำให้เพิ่มขึ้นถึง 3.5 เทราอิเล็กตรอนโวลต์ และบังคับให้ลำอนุภาคชนกันได้ในที่สุด ซึ่งเป็นการชนอนุภาคที่ระดับพลังงานสูงสุดเท่าที่เคยมี และทำให้เกิดรังสีคอสมิคภายในห้องทดลองได้เป็นครั้งแรกบนโลก โดยเครื่องตรวจวัดอนุภาคซีเอ็มเอส (CMS) สามารถตรวจจับการชนกันของอนุภาคในครั้งนี้ได้

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ย้อนทำความเข้าใจทำไมต้องจับอนุภาคชนกัน พร้อมตามติดเส้นทางอนุภาคก่อนเข้าสู่เครื่องเร่งอนุภาค ที่

จับตา “เซิร์น” เพิ่มกำลังเดินเครื่องพร้อมไขปริศนาจักรวาล

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