Any person in the world, sparing those who have been blessed with seclusion from information, would have come across the words LHC or Higgs Effect or Doomsday proclamations today. Invariably, this day marks a milestone in human achievement. The results from this experiment involving the largest particle accelerator man has built so far will make some staggering contributions to particle physics and eventually to the whole of science and engineering.
The Large Hadron Collider, a circular tunnel with circumference of 27 km, located about 100m below the ground at the border of France and Switzerland. The purpose of the device is to collide protons (its a particle accelerator after all) at nearly the speed of light which would make it possible to study the state of particles in the minute time brackets similar to the ones after the Big Bang. This basic opportunity is what makes this whole experiment so unprecedented. There are many theoretical models as to the origin of the universe and this is one time when they can be put to test to see which one predicts the outcome the best.
The project has required co-operation on a global scale with about 8,000 scientists from 85 countries. Piloted by CERN (where Tim Bernes Lee worked on the concept of hyperlinks that eventually led to the Internet) and at a cost of about $10 billion, the project has a few skeptics who see it as merely a means to prove a theory. The main purpose of the project is to confirm the presence of Higgs boson, the particle that is causes other elementary particles to acquire mass.
The project is as much about particle physics as it is about the bleeding edge technology that has gone into making it possible. The whole experiment is hinged on the analysis of minute sub-second activities between sub-atomic particles and hence deploys the very best in digital photography, networks and processing. Considering that scientists began work on this a few decades back, its amazing to the extent they have been able to predict the developments in various technologies and how best to use them.
Coming back to particle physics, the atom is composed of Protons and Neutrons which in turn are made up of elementary particles called quarks. There are two kinds of quarks – up quarks and down quarks. There are several other sub-atomic particles as well but the LHC is basically about confirming the presence of Higgs Boson, a sub-atomic particle that causes other particles to gain mass (the Higgs Effect) and which in theory is incorporated in the Standard Model.
This experiment also has its publicity owing to the Doomsday scenarios ( which are very very unlikely). There is one in 50 million chance that this experiment could result in creation of black holes that may suck in the whole experiment or cities or even earth. But this is really all in the realm of remotest of remote chances. The hope is that this experiment will provide gargantuan amount of information about a time when the universe began.
Nonetheless, like the sequencing of the Human Genome, this is one massive project that we are lucky to be part of in our lifetimes. As we read, the particles are making the rounds in the tunnels of the LHC that would hopefully provide a revolutionary view of the creation of the Universe. Do take the time to go through the videos on YouTube, there is a lot of information to be had from them. This is one time when I have really known the advantage of having online videos so readily accessible. Its provides the best figures of knowledge density ( Information gathered per unit time spent ).