The World's Largest Particle Smasher Passes Its Final Test

Author:  Steve Kang
Institution:  University of Toronto
Date:  September 2008

On the morning of September 10, a team of scientists at CERN tested their 20-year-old, $9 billion investment – dubbed the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a colossal underground 17-mile particle accelerator.

CERN is a nuclear research laboratory located on the border between France and Switzerland. The largest of its kind, CERN also boasts the LHC, which is the biggest and most expensive particle accelerator ever built. It works by firing particles to extreme speeds so that it gains incredible amounts of energy.

In a quest to find the legendary Higgs Boson, a particle so small that it is thought to be the basis of all matter, including atoms and even quarks, as well as answers to several fundamental physics questions, the team at CERN counted down from precisely 8:30 British time to begin the holy grail of experiments in particle physics.

The objective was to send a concentrated beam of protons clockwise around the entire circular pathway of the LHC. Just milliseconds after the countdown ended, a white dot appeared on a computer display indicating that the experiment was successful. Five hours later, the same trial was run, except in the counterclockwise direction. This, too, was a successful attempt.

This trial was the final preparation for a future experiment that will eventually smash together proton beams travelling in opposite directions at near light speeds. The high-energy collision is expected to release debris that the scientists hope to collect for research.

"We may discover the Higgs Boson; we may discover supersymmetry," said UCR faculty Robert Clare, "We may discover completely new and unexpected phenomena, which would be by far the most exciting prospect." Supersymmetry is a theory behind the symmetries of nature, relating naturally-occurring particles to its "symmetrical counterpart" with different spins.

Having sent the proton beams successfully around the circumference of the LHC, scientists around the world are now highly anticipating the actual collisions of two proton beams. Sources have reported that at least a month is required to perfectly align the two beams so that a head-on collision is possible.

Written by : Steven Kang

Edited by : Nadia Ramlagan

Published by: Hoi See Tsao