HISTORIC CRASH OF PROTONS
The $10 billion, 17-mile tunnel becomes the world’s largest ongoing physics experiment.
GThe world’s largest atom smasher threw together minuscule particles racing at unheard-of speeds in conditions simulating those just after the Big Bang — a success that kick-started an experiment that could one day explain how the universe began.
Scientists cheered Tuesday’s historic crash of two proton beams, which produced three times more energy than researchers had created before in a milestone for the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider.
“This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 — what happened in the beginning,” physicist Michio Kaku said.
Tuesday’s smashup transforms the 15-year-old collider from an engineering project in test phase to the world’s largest ongoing experiment, experts say. The crash that occurred on a subatomic scale is more about shaping our understanding of how the universe was created than immediate im- provements to technology in our daily lives.
The power produced will ramp up even more in the future as scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, watch for elusive particles that have been more theorized than seen on Earth.
The first step in simulating the moments after the Big Bang nearly14 billion years ago was to produce a tiny bang. The most potent force on the tiny atomic level that man has ever created came Tuesday.
Two beams of protons were sent hurtling in opposite directions toward each other in a 17-mile tunnel below the SwissFrench border — the coldest place on Earth at slightly above absolute zero. CERN used superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross. Two of the protons collided, producing 7 trillion electron volts.
It’s bizarrely both a record high and a small amount of energy. It’s a record on the atomby-atom basis that physicists use to measure pure energy, said Phil Schewe, a spokesman for the American Institute of Physics. By comparison, burning wood or any other chemical reaction on an atom scale produces 1 electron volt.
Splitting a single uranium atom in a nuclear reaction produces 1 million electron volts. This produces — on an atomby-atom scale — 7 million times more power than a single atom in a nuclear reaction.
The reason this is safe has to do with the amount of particles in the collider. Tuesday’s success involved just two protons making energy, instead of pounds of uranium.
In the future the beams will become stronger, more densely packed with hundreds of billions of protons, and run daily for two years to give scientists many more chances to find elusive particles.
The data generated are expected to reveal even more about particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle — often called the God particle — that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.
The collider also may help scientists see dark matter, the stuff that makes up more of the universe than normal matter but has not been seen on Earth.
The $10 billion Large Hadron Collider near Geneva contains the world’s largest superconducting solenoid magnet.