Keystone, Martial Trezzini/AP
A portion of the Large Hadron Collider

Super Collider May Reveal Mysteries of World’s Creation

September 09, 2008 05:41 PM
by Denis Cummings
The Large Hadron Collider, which may give scientists the ability to determine how matter was created after the Big Bang, is set to launch Wednesday morning.

Large Hadron Collider Set to Launch

On the morning of September 10, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) will power up the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. The LHC will create the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

In the upcoming months and years, scientists will examine how the world was created after the Big Bang. They hope to determine what the early universe was made of, why matter overcame antimatter and where dark matter exists. They are also looking to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, which explains why particles have mass.

The launch of the LHC, a machine that took $10 billion and two decades to build, has attracted a great deal of media attention—both positive and negative—and a rap video explaining the collider and the science behind it has received millions of hits on YouTube.

The launch has also triggered fears that it will create black holes that might “eat the planet from the inside.” A German scientist has filed a lawsuit to stop the LHC launch, and the CERN scientists have received death threats.

Even though it will be another six to eights weeks before there is any proton collision, Wednesday’s launch will receive heavy news coverage. BBC Radio 4 will feature live coverage throughout the day and CERN is offering a live Webcast.

Background: The Large Hadron Collider

The LHC is an underground complex made up of several large cathedral-sized buildings housing high-powered magnets. The magnets, which will be cooled to within two degrees Kelvin of absolute zero, shoot protons at 99.99-percent of the speed of light through a 17-mile circular tunnel lined with computers that will detect and analyze each particle collision.

There are several structures built along the tunnel that perform specific calculations, the most significant of which are A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS) and Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). ALICE will examine the quark–gluon plasma that existed after the Big Bang, while ATLAS and CMS will try to detect dark matter, extra dimensions and the Higgs boson.

Opinion & Analysis: What will scientists find?

There are many long-standing questions of particle physics that scientists at CERN hope to answer with the LHC, including those dealing with antimatter, extra dimensions and black holes.

The most-anticipated possible discovery is the Higgs boson, a theoretical particle that explains how mass is formed. The so-called “God Particle” was first theorized more than 40 years ago and is considered the missing link of the Standard Model.

Dr. Stephen Hawking has doubts that the LHC will detect the Higgs—he’s made a $100 bet on it—but he does believe that the collider is “vital if the human race is not to stultify, and eventually die out.” He anticipates that it can discover “supersymmetric partners” to known particles, which “would be a key confirmation of string theory, and … could make up the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together.”

Though scientists have different opinions on what the LHC will find, they agree that there will be major discoveries made. “More than anything, we have a good sense that we have to see something,” says Perimeter Institute physicist Cliff Burgess. “It's not like we're looking and hoping to see something; seeing nothing is really not an option.”

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