God particle: The Large Hadron Collider

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The Large Hadron Collider fired mankind into a “new era of science” in March last year producing the world’s first highenergy particle collision.

Simulated computer display of a particle collision in the large hadron collider

After years of setbacks, the £4.4billion machine has been smashing together protons using three times the speed and energy of previous experiments.

The collider, which is housed at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), 300ft below the Franco-Swiss border, aims to recreate the conditions present just after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, 13.7billion years ago.

It allows researchers to examine the origin of stars and planets.

The collider has been described as a 17-mile racetrack around which two streams of protons run in opposite directions before smashing into one another and breaking up into their smaller components.

Reaching 99.99 per cent of the speed of light, each beam packs as much energy as a Eurostar train travelling at 90mph. Shooting the particle beams at each other over such a distance is the equivalent of firing needles at each other from either side of the Atlantic.

Some of the theories the LHC research could address include the existence of dark matter and the so-called “God Particle” the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists believe gives mass to other particles and thus to all matter in the universe……….


What does the Large Hadron Collider do? It smashes together particles smaller than atoms at nearlightspeed to break them down into their constituent parts and recreate conditions which existed fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

What will we learn from it? Scientists hope the £4.4billion project will help them to understand how the universe was created and find “missing” particles which are thought to exist but have never been observed, including the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle”. It could answer the question of what causes mass, or even surprise its creators by revealing the existence of a fifth, sixth or seventh previously unknown dimension of time and space.

When will we find out the results of the experiments? The data being generated is so vast and complex -— 1,000 times the amount of information printed each year in books — that it will have to be analysed and interpreted by 80,000 computers around the world. Even with this datacrunching power, it will take months, if not years, to completely decipher. Scientists believe the machine will have to run at full power before they can confirm the existence of the Higgs boson, and this will not happen before 2012.

Will there be practical applications for any knowledge gained? Apart from confirming much of the theory of physics, no one really knows what practical applications the results might have. But the CERN research centre has already given birth to the world wide web, invented in 1990 as a way for scientists around the world to share information.

Could it create a black hole and cause the end of the world? There has been speculation that the explosions inside the collider could create a black hole, which doom-mongers had suggested would swallow up the Earth. Although these early collisions have proved them wrong, they will point out the machine is still only running at half-power. Scientists at CERN, however, say that the collider cannot create black holes and, even if it could, they would be so microscopic that they would immediately disintegrate. Prof Stephen Hawking, the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, said the LHC’s power was “feeble” compared with collisions that regularly happened in the universe.

How much British involvement is there in the LHC?Britain has contributed £500million and is one of 20 European member states which finances and runs CERN. There are hundreds of British scientists among the 2,500 staff and 8,000 visiting scientists at the site. They include the LHC project leader, Dr Lyn Evans, from Aberdare, south Wales, and Prof Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, who was director general of CERN when the LHC project was approved.

LHC glossary

Particle An object which is subatomic — smaller than an atom — and has a definite mass and charge.

Hadron A particle with mass, made up of smaller units. Protons and neutrons, which together form the nucleus of an atom, are types of hadron. Quark One of the constituent parts of protons and neutrons, quark particles are thought to be held together by other particles called gluons. Particle accelerator A machine used to accelerate beams of particles in a defined direction at extremely high velocity, almost the speed of light.

Collider An accelerator in which two beams travelling in opposite directions are steered so as to cause a high-energy collision between the particles in one beam and those in the other.

Higgs bosun A theoretical particle, also known as the “God particle”, which is thought to give matter its mass. First proposed by Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh in 1964.

The LHC should confirm whether or not it exists. Dark matter Invisible matter that scientists believe makes up some 25 per cent of the universe. The LHC hopes to establish what it is made of. Dark energy A hypothetical form of energy that has an antigravitational action and is believed to be powering the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

Written by physicsgg

September 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Posted in High Energy Physics

Tagged with ,

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