Little things mean a lot as historic tests make Big Bang
Published 31/03/2010 | 05:00
THE Large Hadron Collider fired mankind into a "new era of science" yesterday as it finally produced the world's first high-energy particle collision.
After years of setbacks, the €4.9billion machine smashed together protons using three times the speed and energy of previous experiments.
The achievement meant the world's biggest experiment was finally up and running and scientists could start attempting to unravel the secrets of the universe.
Even though particle collisions have been achieved before, yesterday marked the first time one had involved enough power to produce meaningful scientific results.
The first two protons hit each other with a total energy of seven trillion electron volts, sending sub-particles flying in every direction.
Four detectors positioned along the 17-mile underground track picked up these collision "events", providing readings which could rewrite the rules of physics once they have been analysed.
The successful collision also dispelled fears that the machine could endanger the Earth by creating black holes that were so strong they could suck in planets and stars.
Dr Lyn Evans, LHC project leader, said: "It is quite emotional. We had a few problems but we have resolved them and the beams came into collision beautifully. Today is the end of a very long road. There have been some bumps but it is fantastic to see this today. It is a new era of science."
The experiment at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) aims to recreate the conditions present just after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, 13.7billion years ago. This will allow researchers to examine the origin of stars and planets.
"We're within a billionth of a second of the Big Bang," said James Gillies, a CERN spokesman. The collider has been described as a 17-mile racetrack around which two streams of protons run in opposite directions before smashing into one another and breaking up into their smaller components.
Reaching 99.99pc of the speed of light, each beam packs as much energy as a Eurostar train travelling at 90mph. Shooting the particle beams at each other over such a distance is the equivalent of firing needles at each other from either side of the Atlantic.
Some of the theories the LHC research could address include the existence of dark matter and the so-called "God Particle", the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists believe gives mass to other particles and thus to all matter in the universe.
The LHC was launched in September 2008, but was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered part overheated, causing extensive damage to the large magnets in the collider. Since then, it has performed almost flawlessly, though it is still only running at about half power. (© Daily Telegraph, London)