It turns out that the world’s biggest (and most fear-inspiring) machine, The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) might finally have justified its £6bn cost after becoming operational on 10 September 2008. The particle accelerator, which tests predictions of high-energy physics in an ultimate quest to reveal clues about the origins of the universe recently made scientists rejoice when it recorded a successful collision between two groups of sub-atomic particles. For those of you without a physics degrees, this is good news and a key marker in the search for the much documented Higgs Boson particle.
The LHC’s purpose is to allow scientists to understand such phenomena as dark matter, antimatter and supersymmetry, with the aim to discover how the universe once scattered energy at vast speeds some 13.7bn years ago, resulting in the formation of the sun, stars and life as we know it. The as-yet-to-be-proven Higgs Boson – dubbed the ‘God Particle’ by the media – is thought of by some scientists as an integral component of the material world and its discovery would help to explain the origin of mass in the universe.
Physicists now seem to have learnt the ropes in Geneva, with recent beam intensities of over 450 GeV spinning around the 17 mile tunnel. It’s about time really – an explosion in September 2008 saw a 20 ton superconducting magnet free itself from its mountings, shutting the entire project down for months and costing £24m. Disaster struck again in November 2009 when a passing bird dropped a piece of bread into the machine, causing it to short circuit.
Nonetheless, Fabiola Gianotti who represents the Atlas experiment (the large detector manufactured to identify the Higgs Boson) remains optimistic: “This is great news, the start of a fantastic era of physics”.