HIS­TORIC CRASH OF PRO­TONS

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - WORLD WATCH - By ALEXAN­DER G. HIG­GINS and SETH BOREN­STEIN

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

The $10 bil­lion Large Hadron Col­lider near Geneva con­tains the world’s largest su­per­con­duct­ing so­le­noid mag­net.

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