After 15 years of construction, the world’s largest particle accelerator is warmed up, fully tested, and ready to rumble. The Large Hadron Collider will go into operation on September 10th, and researchers are celebrating every step towards that momentous day. Last weekend, physicists popped champagne to toast the results of a test in which beams of protons were sent barreling into a massive block of concrete, causing the protons to fragment into smaller particles. Researchers have also successfully sent test batches of protons part-way around the collider’s 17-mile circular track.
The Large Hadron Collider represents the science world’s latest, greatest attempt to smash its way into the mysteries of the universe: Beams of protons will eventually collide with the energy of two bullet trains – spawning sprays of subatomic debris that are certain to lead to new discoveries…. One experiment at the LHC, known as ALICE, seeks to re-create the conditions that existed just an instant after the big bang that gave rise to the universe as we know it. [The collider's] researchers want to understand why matter won out over antimatter after the creation of the cosmos [MSNBC].
Another research goal is to find evidence of hypothetical particles that physicists believe could explain the subatomic structure of the universe. The LHC’s high-energy collisions will allow physicists to search for new particles such as the fabled Higgs boson, which is thought to be responsible for conferring the property of mass on other particles [Nature News]. The Higgs boson is named after the physicist Peter Higgs who proposed the particle’s existence almost 50 years ago, although more fanciful physicists call it the “God particle” because its discovery could unify understanding of particle physics and help humans “know the mind of God” [MSNBC].
On September 10th, researchers will send a stream of protons all the way around the circular track in one direction, as a prelude to sending beams in both directions and smashing them together later in the year [Reuters]. That event is being heralded as the collider’s official opening day, and will be covered by a live webcast beginning at 8:30 a.m., Swiss time.
To learn why the Large Hadron Collider probably won’t create little black holes that engulf our planet, check out the DISCOVER article, “The Extremely Long Odds Against the Destruction of the Earth.”