To prove a hypothesis, experiments need to be carried out. Scientists and researchers all over the world conduct experiments everyday to prove their findings and discoveries. It can be a simple experiment involving simple chemicals or materials. Or it can be a large scale experiment requiring years of preparation and enormous fundings (e.g. making teh-tarik in space by our “part-time model” astronaut). But none of those experiments will be as significant as the experiment that will take place next month. It will perhaps be the greatest experiment in the history of mankind.
This is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The tunnels housing the collider are underground.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s biggest particle accelerator. It is located at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. It lies in a tunnel under France and Switzerland. Building it requires 1600 superconducting magnets. 96 tons of helium and huge refrigeration systems are needed to keep it at 1.8Kelvin. That’s 1.8Kelvin above absolute zero and colder than outer space! For more information, watch Brian Cox give a tour of the LHC at TED.
Simulation of Higgs boson particle.
The experiment that will be conducted using the LHC this June 2008(provided there are no delays) will enable scientists to verify the existence of the Higgs boson (also known as the God Particle). This will be a significant step towards the search for the Grand Unified Theory.
Detail of the central tracking detector, from the innermost layer of the Compact Muon Solenoid. It contains some seventy-five million silicon sensors that will measure the tracks of particles emerging from collisions inside the C.M.S. A CERN spokesperson describes it as “a bit like a huge digital camera that can take pictures forty million times a second.” – Source: NewYorker.com
Now this wouldn’t be interesting if it wasn’t very dangerous. In fact, some people liken the experiment as betting our entire Earth to prove a theory. So why is smashing protons together at 99.99% the speed of light so dangerous?
Black holes, that’s why.
Collisions of protons at such high energies MAY create mini black holes. While this has not been proven yet, it is a cause for concern. However, scientists backing the LHC have given a few explanations as to why there is little to worry about.
Firstly, mini black holes are really tiny. They are about 10^-32 cm large (hair is 10^-3 cm thick) and they evaporate within 1 picosecond because of Hawking radiation. Since they disappear almost right after they are formed, they won’t have time to swallow up the Earth.
But let’s just say something goes wrong with Hawking’s radiation theory (since it has never been proven or observed before) and the black hole does not evaporate. At a linear growth rate, the black hole will “eat” 1 Quark (a very small part of matter) per day. It will take 1 million years for the black hole to totally swallow up the Earth. Plenty of time for us to find a solution.
That is if we consider the black hole’s growth rate to be linear. If we somehow form a stable black hole with a non linear growth rate, scientists calculate that we’ll have about 4.5 to 7 minutes to say our prayers. This is exactly why some people think that the stakes for this experiment is too high. We’re betting the Earth that Hawking radiation exists and that black holes grow linearly. Both theories have never been proven or observed.
However, physicist Michio Kaku begs to differ and explains why the Large Hadron Collider will not create “killer Black Holes”:
Another danger is the formation of strangelets, or strange matter. If let loose, a strangelet will turn other ordinary matter into strange matter. This will cause a catastrophic chain reaction that will reduce our Earth into a big lump of strange matter.
Video: The Large Hadron Collider: The End Of The Universe?
Part of the 27km tunnel housing the particle accelerator. Image courtesy: BBC.co.uk.
Experiments using the LHC will no doubt enable us to understand the way particles behave and possibly unlock the secrets of the big bang. If everything goes well, in about 2 months we will know if Higgs boson particles exists. If not, I’ll see you in a black hole.
The LHC can also be used for other purposes. Source: xkcd.com