Hadron Collider could unlock secrets of the Big Bang
Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
April 6 2008
As the world's largest and
most expensive science experiment, the new particle accelerator
buried 300ft beneath the Alpine foothills along the Swiss French
border is 17 miles long and up to 12 stories high. It is
designed to generate temperatures of more than a trillion
Watch: Footage of the world's largest particle collider
The Ł4.4 billion machine -
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.
The collider is designed
to recreate the conditions
that existed immediately after the Big Bang
The Sunday Telegraph
joined the scientist Peter Higgs, a professor of particle
physics at Edinburgh University, whose 40-year-old theories
about an elusive particle known as the Higgs boson may finally
be proved as part of the huge experiment, as he toured the site
for the first time.
This weekend will be the last time visitors will be given access
to the tunnel that houses the accelerator ring.
From tomorrow, 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
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 from switching it on for fear it could create a
black hole that will suck up all life on Earth.
"The Large Hadron Collider is like a time machine that is going
to take us further back towards the Big Bang than we have ever
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
"The idea that it could cause the end of the world is
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 tunnel is large enough to drive a train through and so long
that the curve is barely noticeable. To reach it requires a
two-minute lift journey from ground level. Down below the scene
is a mass of cables, tubes, electronics and metal panels
Atomic particles will spiral though a series of rings, lined
with powerful magnets that will accelerate the particles till
they reach close to the speed of light. Each particle will race
around the 17-mile route 11,245 times every second before being
smashed headlong into each other, breaking them into their
component parts, 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
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.
Six separate detectors have been positioned around the collider
ring to allow scientists to examine what happens.
Among the particles they will hunt for is the Higgs boson, a
cornerstone of modern physics that is thought to be responsible
for giving every other particle its mass, or weight.
Immediately after the Big Bang all particles are thought to have
had no mass. 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.
A massive detector known as Atlas is among those that will be
hunting for the Higgs boson. As big as Canterbury Cathedral and
weighing more than 100 747 jumbo jet aircraft, it is one of the
most impressive parts of the collider.
Professor Jonathan Butterworth, a physicist at University
College London who is among the UK scientists involved in the
Atlas experiment, said: "If we find the Higgs boson then it will
prove our standard model of particle physics.
"If we don't find it then nature may have another way of giving
particles mass and that is going to turn science on its head."
Two elevator rides and a 10-minute car journey away on the other
side of the giant accelerator, another 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 dimensions.
"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 project.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Newest