posted on Sep, 9 2008 @ 05:34 AM
AS THE world's largest and most expensive science experiment, the new particle accelerator buried 100 metres beneath the Alpine foothills along the
Swiss-French border is 27.3 kilometres long and up to 12 storeys high. It weighs 2 billion kilograms, and is designed to generate temperatures of more
than a trillion degrees.
The Large Hadron Collider is aiming to unlock the secrets of how the universe began. Scientists will use it to try to recreate the conditions that
existed just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang — the birth of the universe — by smashing pieces of atoms together at high speed.
From today, it will be completely closed off while technicians make the final preparations before it is turned on in July when, it is hoped, it will
begin revealing what the matter and energy that created the universe was really like.
What happens afterwards could change our understanding of the world.
Most experts believe the explosions created when the particles hit each other will reveal the basic building blocks of everything around us. There are
some, however, who fear it could destroy the planet.
A lawsuit filed last week by environmentalists in Hawaii is seeking a restraining order preventing the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN) from
switching it on for fear it could create a black hole that will suck up all life on Earth.
"We are going to see new types of matter we haven't been able to see before," said Professor Frank Close, a particle physicist at Oxford
University. "The idea that it could cause the end of the world is ridiculous."
Housed in a subterranean lair that would provide a suitable home for a Hollywood super-villain, it is hardly surprising there are conspiracy theories
surrounding the work being carried out on the collider.
The tunnel is large enough to drive a train through and to reach it requires a two-minute lift journey from ground level.
Atomic particles will spiral though a series of rings lined with powerful magnets that will accelerate the particles until they reach speeds close to
the speed of light. Each particle will race around the 27.3-kilometre ring 11,245 times every second before being smashed headlong into each other,
breaking into their component parts and releasing huge amounts of energy and debris.
The temperatures produced by these collisions will be 100,000 times hotter than the centre of the sun and scientists believe this will be powerful
enough to reveal the first particles that existed in the moments immediately after the birth of the universe.
This massive experiment will create more than 15 million gigabytes of data every year — the equivalent of 21.4 million CDs. The scientists have had
to design a new form of the internet to cope with the data.
Among the particles the scientists will hunt for is the Higgs boson, a cornerstone of modern physics that is thought to be responsible for giving
every other particle a mass, or weight.
Immediately after the Big Bang, all particles are thought to have had no mass at all. As the temperature cooled, the Higgs boson "stuck" to them,
making them heavy. Some particles are more "sticky" than others and so gain more weight.
One part of the experiment, dubbed ALICE, will recreate the superheated gas, or plasma, that existed when the universe was formed.
The collider may also reveal more exotic phenomena such as anti-matter, the opposite of ordinary matter, mini black holes and even extra
"At the level of energy we will be creating, normal matter doesn't exist. I expect we will see some things that are entirely new and could turn our
current understanding of physics on its head," said Dr David Evans, a physicist from Birmingham University, who has been working on the ALICE