Researchers are smashing together lead ions as a way to create a type of dense, high-energy plasma that may help physicists better understand conditions at the very early stages of the universe.
On Monday CERN announced the first collisions of lead ions
Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), just outside of Geneva, on Monday said that they had succeeded in creating a mini Big Bang by changing the particles they use for their high-speed collisions from protons to heavier lead ions.
These types of ultra-high-speed smash-ups at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are an attempt to re-create the explosion, known as the Big Bang, which is believed to have begun the universe. As spokeswoman Barbara Warmbein told the Associated Press, the CERN experiment over the weekend produced "a very, very, very small bang."
Lead ions are lead atoms whose electrons have been removed, and are much heavier than the protons that the researchers had been using. That may be beneficial, as the energy required to smash them is higher, and thus may be closer to the conditions the scientists are trying to analyze.
As the research continues, scientists are trying to create "quark-gluon plasma," an extremely hot and dense type of matter that may unlock some secrets in the early universe.
The lead ion experiments will continue until CERN shuts down for the winter on December 6
"The experiments are already providing an exciting glimpse of the new frontier," Sergio Bertolucci, CERN's director for research and computing, told AFP news agency.
Major breakthroughs 'could take years'
The LHC is comprised of a circular, 27-kilometer (17-mile) atom-smasher that cost four billion euros ($5.2 billion) to build near Geneva. It began operations in September 2008.
Beyond pushing the limits of particle physics, the team is also exploring the frontier of data storage and transfer. CERN is currently using 140 computer centers spread across 34 countries to back up and analyze its data, which is being transferred at peak rates of 10 gigabytes per second, or the equivalent of approximately two DVDs per second.
Still, Warmbein added that it will likely be months, if not years, before CERN scientists make any major breakthroughs.
Author: Cyrus Farivar (AP, AFP)
Editor: Kate Bowen