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The Large Hadron Collider: Making Physics (Almost) Interesting

Sep 12, 2008
You may be forgiven for thinking that LHC is a new type of drug designed to be smoked in a pipe, but It is in fact the a piece of scientific equipment which will hopefully explain how we got here today.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the biggest, most expensive science experiment the world has ever seen. Two years late and four times over budget, the LHC can be found 100 metres below the ground at Geneva.

The LHC is a product of the biggest collaboration of scientists in recent history; the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern). Some 10,000 scientists from 80 countries around the world have come together to build the collider which rests in a 27 km long tunnel, known as the ring.

The ring contains 1,000 cylindrical magnets and a number of detectors that will monitor activity. The magnets will steer miniscule particles (known as protons - a form of Hadron) around the ring at a rate of knots similar to the speed of light. In October, when the LHC really kicks into gear, scientists will send protons in the opposite direction on a crash course with the first set of protons. The result will be a cataclysmic explosion similar to that of the Big Bang, some 13.7 bn years ago.

Cern hope to solve the greatest mystery of the scientific world and gain fundamental insights into the nature of the cosmos. By looking at the Standard Model, scientists understand a lot about how particles in our universe act and interact. The trouble with this theory is that it only accounts for ordinary matter and ordinary matter only accounts for 4% of our world.

Dark Matter and Dark Energy are two proposed forces that apparently make up most of our surroundings. It is estimated that Dark Matter constitutes 23% of the universe whilst Dark Energy makes up 73%. When the LHC gets to full speed, two of the four LHC detectors will measure for evidence of this anti-matter.

Other questions that Cern hope to answer include 'what is mass?' and why does gravity behaves the way that it does? Higgs boson (sometimes glamourised and referred to as the God particle) is a sub atomic particle first proposed by Prof. Peter Higgs in the 1960s. It could explain why gravity acts the way it does. Higgs's theory states that there is a field which matter passes through, and when it does, it experiences mass. If the LHC discovers that this field (dubbed the Higgs field) actually exists, then gravity could also be explained.

The project has been surrounded by controversy much of the way through. When some clever scientist let on the fact that yes indeed, a black hole could be generated by the events at Geneva, there was uproar. Two scientists from Hawaii were first on the scene, filing a suit to stop the activity until an improved safety report could be produced. Needless to say, science prevailed and the law suit was thrown out.

Another theory that has been born from the goings on at Geneva is the arrival of people from other universes through a wormhole. Fanciful at best, these sorts of rumours are best suited to a Pullman novel, along with the idea that millions of other universes co-inhabit the same space in time. Whilst these ideas may well appeal to the more fantastically minded people out there, the chances are that anti-matter is, in fact, as boring as the study of neutrons and electrons.

Not to worry, the world's single greatest mind, Stephen Hawking, is putting his money on the Higgs boson not actually existing. Quite literally, he has a 100GBP wager with an unnamed friend that the God particle will not be found. If he is right, we could quite possibly be looking at not only the most expensive and ambitious science experiment ever, but also the most pointless.

However, this said, I would like to leave you with one final thought: The World Wide Web was also created by those clever chappies at Cern as a means of communicating with each other more easily. When they had perfected it, they gave it away. For free. Something to think about? I think so.
About the Author
Samantha is an expert Research and Theatre consultant. Her current interests are UK shortbreaks including Play and Stay and Theme Park Breaks.
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