The most ambitious scientific experiment of all time: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.
This has me all agog! Dad keenly followed the developments and kept telling me about them.
I'm picking the following article from Labreporter.
Deep beneath the ground in Geneva, thousands of scientists from all over the world are working together to build the biggest, most complicated machine in the world. It's part of the most ambitious scientific experiment of all time: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. These films reveal the scientific questions at the heart of the experiment and what scientists hope to achieve once the machine is switched on later this year.
Big Bang V2.0
Dr Brian Cox takes us on a tour of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva - the biggest, most complicated machine ever built. It’s costing millions of pounds and has thousands of scientists from around the world waiting to use it as part of the biggest scientific experiment ever attempted. Once switched on, it will allow scientists to recreate the conditions that existed in the first moments after the Big Bang. The film also features Brian and other CERN scientists explaining what results they hope will emerge from the most exciting scientific experiment of our time.
Sizing things up
One of science's greatest achievements is to have accurately measured everything from the width of the universe to the diameter of a quark. This film features an animated zoom in from the universe to the heart of a hydrogen atom and reveals how things at both ends of the scale are connected by their common origin in the Big Bang. Dr Tara Shears explains that although there are scientists who study the very big things (cosmologists) and scientists who study the very small things (particle physicists), they are all waiting for the results of one experiment - The Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
The Mystery of the Missing Mass
Like antimatter, Dark Matter is a favourite with science fiction writers. But unlike antimatter, scientists believe that there are huge quantities of dark matter in our universe. In fact, they think that most of the mass in the universe is made up of something we can't see. In this film, Dr Tara Shears explains why scientists are convinced Dark Matter exists and how a new experiment called the Large Hadron Collider might finally tell us exactly what this mysterious missing mass is made of.
Hunting for the Higgs
Over the last 100 years or so, physicists have developed a theory called "The Standard Model" which says that pretty much everything in the universe can be described in terms of just 12 fundamental particles. However, the theory also predicts the existence of one more particle, the Higgs Boson, which has never been seen. In this film. Dr Tara Shears enlists the help of students from the University of Liverpool to explain what the Higgs Boson is and why scientists are building the biggest, most complicated experiment in history to prove it exists.
Listen to Prof David Miller read his prize winning analogy for the Higgs Boson by downloading the MP3 here .
The Matter with Antimatter
Thanks to Star Trek and other science fiction, most of us are familiar with the notion of antimatter – a “mirror-version” of the matter that makes up the world around us. Many science fiction writers have used the fact that matter and anti-matter explode when they come into contact to conjure up exotic-sounding ways of powering super-fast space ships or blowing things up. There’s usually an abundant supply of anti-matter in these stories but, in the real world, only minute amounts of antimatter have been seen in cosmic rays or created in particle accelerators.
Equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created at the birth of the universe but our universe seems to be made almost entirely from matter. In this film, Dr Tara Shears explains why this is one of the greatest mysteries in science and how it might be solved by the biggest experiment in history.
B is for Beauty
Imagine how limited our knowledge of biology would be without the microscope or how little we would know about stars without telescopes. From humble electrical meters to biological imaging machines, scientific instruments are at the heart of scientific discovery. Most of the time, scientists take these instruments for granted, treating them as “black boxes” which simply measure, magnify, separate, isolate, capture or illuminate the thing they’re really interested in. In the usual course of research, there’s no need to remember that someone had to invent and build the first microscope, telescope, ammeter, brain scanner or DNA sequencing machine. But scientists who want to do an experiment which no-one has ever done before, look at things which no-one has ever seen before or measure things which no-one has ever quantified before, are often forced to turn instrument maker.
Dr Tara Shears is one of thousands of scientists around the world helping to build the biggest, most expensive, most complicated scientific instrument in history – The Large Hadron Collider or LHC, a machine that will smash protons together at near light speed and allow scientists to “look’ at things that have not been “seen’ since the Big Bang. Tara is a member Particle Physics Group at the University of Liverpool, which is constructing components that will detect "beauty" quarks created by the collision of protons in the LHC. These detectors will help the LHCb experiment to identify tiny differences between matter b-quarks and antimatter ones.
Thanks to Star Trek and Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, most of us are familiar with the notion of antimatter – a “mirror-version” of the matter that makes up the world around us. Many science fiction writers have used the fact that matter and anti-matter explode whe ways of powering super-fast space ships or blowing things up. There’s usually an abundant supply of anti-matter in these stories but in the real world, it can only be created in particle accelerators and then only in absolutely minute amounts. Hopefully the LHC will provide enough of it to allow scientists like Tara a chance to try and better understand the differences between the two types of matter.
Tara explains “particle physics deals with what the universe is made of and how things behave to make the universe look the way it does. One of the great mysteries that remains is why the universe went from being made of equal quantities of matter and antimatter to being one made entirely of matter”. The key to answering this question is to look at the tiny differences between matter and antimatter particles. The “beauty” quark is particularly good for probing this question because b-quarks and anti-b-quarks behave “more differently” than other particles and their antimatter counterparts.
Tara and the LHCb-Liverpool Group are responsible for providing the modules for the “vertex locator” or VELO. This is a silicon based detector that will let the scientists precisely track the movement of the b-quarks for the duration of their brief lives; within trillionths of a second the b-quarks will decay into other particles. The detectors being built at Liverpool will allow scientists to reconstruct the position of the b-quarks in 3D and pinpoint crucial differences between matter and antimatter. This, they hope, will reveal unknown truths about the nature of the universe.
Tara splits her time as an experimental physicist between helping to build the detectors and devising methods to understand the data they will produce. “I’m not an expert on detectors so I mainly help with testing components for the detectors”. She talks passionately about her work; “it’s such a seductive idea to me - to be able to look deep into the heart of matter and pick it apart like ‘pass the parcel’ just to see what it is made of”. She credits her teachers for her love of Physics, “it’s something that captivated me when I was about 15. I had a really good teacher at school, Mr Winders, who taught me how to think about problems, to solve them logically. I also had tutors all the way through university, and when doing my PhD, who really inspired me”.
Tara continues the tradition of inspiring young people with her outreach work – she regularly gives public talks and devotes a lot of time to helping the public understand particle physics. One question can be guaranteed to turn up any time she talks about her work: “is it worth spending all this money on a science experiment?” Tara explains “one way to answer this is to tell people about the technological spin-offs that have come out of particle physics experiments like this one, for example, the web was developed at CERN and PET scanners are a direct spin-off from particle detectors. But for me personally, this experiment is about the extension of human knowledge. It’s about pushing back our horizons and seeing as far as we can into the heart of matter. And for me, that’s priceless”.