The Large Hadron Collider
What is it?
The Large Hadron Collider is exactly what it says: a large machine (27 kilometres in diameter, 100 metres under the ground) that collides hadrons – these are either protons (a part of an atom with a positive electric charge) or lead ions (a particle with an electric charge). It is the largest, most powerful, and most complex particle collider in the world, and also the biggest machine in the world. It is situated under the border between France and Switzerland. It is kind of scientific doughnut whose inside is lined with powerful electromagnets, in which particles are smashed together.
What does it do?
Inside the LHC, a lot of complicated crashes happen – literally. Two beams of hadrons – which are where the collider gets its name – are hurled around the ring with the help of the electromagnets that line the sides of the ring. The particles approach a velocity near the speed of light… which is pretty fast. They go around in opposite directions, and are encouraged to collide. When they do this, the debris that they leave from the collision is intercepted by detectors on the side of the collider. After the detectors linked to the collider receive information on the debris, they send it off to specially programmed computers. There are no hard drives that exist that could take the amount of information that is collected from the debris of the crashes: the solution to this problem is to have people specially programme the computers to sift through one load of information; they then decide on the fly what is useful and what is not. The useless information is then discarded, and the useful kept.
(Side point: this is just one example of how many jobs there are to have in physics. It’s not all just mad scientists making explosions in secret labs. There are jobs such as: programming computers to sift through information, creating formulae for machines such as the LHC, designing and actually building machinery, as well as actually discovering physics things, like quantum theory and that the world is round.)
Why does it do this?
The Large Hadron Collider was built in the first place to find out more about the universe and, more importantly, what it is made of. Physicists are of the opinion that the whole universe was triggered into action around 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang, though, by what, they don’t know. Back then, in the seconds after the Bang, the whole universe was incredibly hot and dense – but then it started to cool very rapidly. It was then that many of the processes we see today in the world were activated. To find out more about what it was like directly after the Big Bang, or possibly even what caused it, the LHC was built. When the particles inside the LHC collide, a miniature Big Bang is made – a Tiny Bang, made up of just a few particles. By studying the debris that is made by the collision of the particles, physicists can possibly gain more of an understanding of how the universe came into being. The collisions may also be able to create particles that have not yet been observed – with these they could discover the missing bonds to modern physics.
What has the LHC done so far?
The most prominent discovery the LHC has made is the Higgs boson. This is something that is believed to give particles mass. The existence of the Higgs boson particle has been certified. The Higgs boson could tell us why a particular particle has a particular mass, and it could further our understanding of how the universe is actually made.
I think that the LHC and what it has achieved so far is awesome – this machine could tell us the building blocks of the whole universe, which is exceedingly cool. To work on a project like this would be exceptionally rewarding: I think that this is why people go in for this line of work. Not every physicist may be a globally renowned scientist, and it must be hard work, but the recompenses of helping to unravel how the universe works must be significant.