Type the letters LHC into Google, and you’ll get 2 very important hits. One being the Large Hadron Collider and the other being CERN. But why type those letters in the first place unless you’re specifically looking for the Large Hadron Collider? When I ask most of my science pals if they know what LHC stands for, most answer with a flat no, which is kind of devastating considering it is the single handedly most important piece of scientific equipment devised by modern man. So, in that case, here’s a little intro into the Large Hadron Collider.
In a nutshell, The Large Hadron Collider, aka the LHC, is an extremely large scientific instrument that has changed what we know about the universe.
The LHC is scientifically known as a particle accelerator and it essentially collides ‘things’ together, ‘things’ being particles. What the LHC aims to do, in the simplest way possible, is to accelerate sub-atomic particles (particles smaller than a single atom) to 99.999% the speed of light (each particle will race around the LHC ring 11,245 times a second!), and strike them together! The impact of the particles generates an extreme amount of heat (100,000 times hotter than the sun) and even smaller, rarer particles.
One of the most notable experiments in the LHC is the recreation of the Big Bang.
“Physicists use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world then analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.” – CERN
But creating the right conditions for studying the Big Bang is no easy task. As its name might suggest, it is in fact LARGE! In fact, the LHC spans over two European countries, France and Switzerland, and has a total circumference of approximately 27 kilometres (That’s about 54 AFL ovals!). Not only is it large, but it is also buried within the Earth, sitting approximately 175 metres (574 feet) below the ground.
Even though the LHC runs underneath France and Switzerland, the main headquarters are located in Geneva at CERN (French – Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), that is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. It was built over a 10 year period from 1998 to 2008, and became fully operational after November 2009. The LHC cost an enormous 7.5 billion Euros which is just short of 10 billion Aussie dollars! Aside from being shared geographically between France and Switzerland, CERN has a number of cooperating countries, including Australia, with some Australians (Professor Geoffrey Taylor from the University of Melbourne), even working on the discovery of the Higgs Boson, known commonly as the ‘God’ particle.
So what will the LHC tell us?
Most of physics describing the macroscopic world was theorised by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th and 18th centuries. However today, physicists are more focused on the physics governing the microscopic world, which is what the study of quantum mechanics aims to find. The LHC has already been attributed to discovering:
- The bottomonium state
- Higgs Boson
- Created a high energy particle gun
- Observing the decay of very rare and super tiny particles called Bs mesons
At the moment, the LHC is taking a much needed break while being upgraded to be able to deliver almost double the amount of energy to the particles. More energy should reveal new particles, possibly the elusive dark matter, attributed to the expansion of the universe.
So that’s the LHC, and if you’re ever in Geneva, stop by CERN and have a look for yourself. There are a few museums which are open to the public. Just take Tram line 14 from Geneva CDB.