Physicists at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, slam together sub-atomic particles with a level of energy never before achieved.
A big day for scientists as the world's biggest atom-smasher breaks records
On Tuesday 30 March 2010, at 13.06 local time in Geneva, Switzerland, CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) broke scientific boundaries. The LHC slammed beams of particles together at a record collision energy of 7 tera-volts, that's seven billion electron volts - three and a half times faster than ever achieved before in a particle accelerator. This will allow them to recreate conditions shortly after the so-called Big Bang conditions that launched the universe 13.7 billion years ago.
“This is a step into the unknown,” said CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci.
“We are doing something that no one has done before. We hope to find things that are really new,” Bertolucci said.
Working towards this moment for 25 years
The Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest particle accelerator, is 27-kilometers long. The entire project has so far cost around seven billion euros ($9.4 billion). A similar attempt to collide particles in the Large Hadron Collider failed in 2008. After Tuesday's successful experiment, scientists can now move into uncharted territory.
“It's been a fabulous day," James Gillies, the head of communication for CERN told Deutsche Welle.
“Scientists at CERN have been working towards this day for 25 years. This is something that comes around once in a career, when new research can change the way we view the universe. 10,000 scientists around the world, 2,500 students with PHD's have been waiting for this day so they can further their work."
Particles travel at almost the speed of light through the LHC's 27-km tunnel
Understanding dark matter and black holes
Data from collisions over the next few years will be analyzed by thousands of scientists who are linked by a global computer network known as "The Grid". Gilllies said they are especially keen to explore dark matter.
“Now we believe that about 25 percent of the universe is made up of stuff called dark matter, and we know nothing about it. We know it's there because of the influence it has on galaxies and so on, but we don't know what it is,” Gillies said.
The Hadron Collider can smash protons together so hard, that physicists expect to be able to identify a mechanism called the Higgs Boson within a couple of years and evaluate its physical properties. The Higgs Boson is said to explain the nature of dark matter and black holes.
James Gillies dismissed fears that the LHC could blow up the planet while scientist go around creating micro-black holes.
“That is not what it's all about.That's a lot of hype coming from various places. We are not going to create earth-eating black holes,” he said.
Do black holes seep from the forces of gravity?
The force of gravity is believed to be a key factor in understanding the formation of black holes.
“You and I can defy gravity by jumping in the air, but you can't defy gravity for long,” Gilllies said.
“If you wanted to defy the next weakest force of nature after gravity, it would involve you walking through walls. Well, you are not going to do that. So, physicists want to understand why gravity is so weak. “
Gillies said that some theoreticians believe that the forces of gravity are weak, and that some of its energy is in fact leaked outside of the three dimensions that we commonly know.
“That is mind-boggling to think of it. Mathematically it all hangs together very well," Gillies said.
“Some theories say that when we bang our protons very hard together in the LHC, we'll be pushing them so close together, that gravity becomes as strong as the other forces and we see the extra dimensions of gravitational effects. These theories predict that we might produce objects that are called microscopic black holes."
Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt
Editor: Susan Houlton