The World’s Biggest Scientific Instrument Resumes


We live in a land of false superlatives, with advertisements constantly hyping this product or that as bigger, more powerful and somehow better. It’s easy to get jaded and ignore anyone who is making a claim that something is utterly amazing.

However, in a rare turn of truth in advertising, we live in a time in which scientists are about to embark on a journey that actually really is utterly amazing. Beginning in just a few days, physicists working at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland will start commissioning the largest and most powerful particle accelerator ever built — the Large Hadron Collider or LHC. This facility will shed light on some of the oldest questions ever asked by mankind, questions of the deepest fabric of reality and the very origins of the universe itself. These are very impressive claims indeed and it is fair to wonder if the machine can deliver on it.

So what is the LHC? It is a huge ring, 17 miles (27 km) in circumference. In it, two beams of protons are accelerated in opposite directions until they are travelling at nearly the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km/s). These beams are then made to collide inside four huge detectors. The temperatures in these collisions are mind-boggling, well over 100,000 times hotter than the center of the sun. These temperatures were last prevalent throughout the universe about a tenth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. In a very real sense, scientists are recreating the conditions of the very birth of the universe itself and studying it using the most sophisticated detection equipment ever devised. This is simply the first superlative on which this equipment can —> Read More