Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The big bang machine

My son came home from school yesterday convinced that we are all going to die today due to the switch on of the Big Bang Machine!, so, no reassurance from me was doing the trick, i found this info on SKY NEWS website and I'm hoping it will settle his nerves...

The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland could turn the world of physics on its head.

But what exactly is it and what will the biggest particle accelerator ever built do? Here are the answers to some of your questions:

What's the point of this experiment?

Scientists are trying to unlock the secrets and answer unresolved questions about the universe. There are fundamental gaps in our basic understanding of physics and how the universe works. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will recreate conditions just after the Big Bang (the theory that a massive explosion created the universe) and may help to fill in missing knowledge. Physicists hope the experiment will help them understand what the universe is made of, what propels its expansion and predict its future.

How does it work?

Inside the accelerator, two beams of particles will travel in opposite directions at close to the speed of light. Thousands of magnets of different varieties and sizes will direct the beams around the accelerator. Because the particles are so small, another type of magnet is used to squeeze them closer together to encourage them to collide.
Scientists hope previously unseen particles will be discovered in the debris when beams smash together. The new particles are expected to provide new leads for physicists and may confirm existing theories.

What is the Higgs particle?

The Higgs particle is a theoretical idea to explain mass in the universe but it has never been proved. The theory suggests particles had no mass just after the Big Bang. When the temperature fell, an invisible force field was formed. When particles interact with the field they become heavier. If scientists could identify the Higgs particle or field using the LHC, it would explain why some particles have a greater mass than others and would support the current understanding of how particles work.

What if they don't find anything?

They may find no new particles which would be a setback for scientists trying to secure funding for the next generation collider machine. If they cannot prove the existence of the Higgs particle, it would mean theories about matter and mass have been developing along the wrong track for decades. Many scientists might consider that an exciting prospect because they would have to start theorising from scratch.

Who is involved in this?

The new particle accelerator might be buried along the Swiss-French border but it has attracted researchers from 80 countries. The £2.4bn project has mostly been financed by 20 European member states but the US and Japan are major contributors with observer status. Ten thousand scientists from 500 different institutions have been involved in developing the LHC.

When can we expect the results?

It has already taken two decades to get this far and it will take another two months just to get the proton beams colliding. The data recorded will fill around 100,000 DVDs every year but physicists may have to wait between five and 10 years before they get any significant results.

What are the risks?

Sceptics have filed suits in the US District Court in Hawaii and the European Court of Human Rights to stop the project. They claim the experiment will create a big black hole which could suck up all life on Earth. Several safety reviews of the LHC have been carried out which show there is no measurable risk.

Will it create black holes?

Nature forms black holes when stars collapse on themselves at the end of their lives. There is some speculation that the LHC could produce microscopic black holes. If they were created, they would evaporate away very quickly and would be too small to suck in any matter. The accelerator may help scientists understand more about black holes.

What impact will this experiment have on everyday life?

The work carried out by scientists at the European Nuclear Research Centre might seem far removed from everyday life, but it does push the boundaries of existing technologies and engineering in a way that can be adapted to benefit us all. For example, earlier work led to the creation of the internet.
Scientists working on the LHC have also created the "grid" which is described as the next generation internet and is 10,000 times faster than most broadband connections.

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