Monday, September 15, 2008

This "Will Rock You in the Head"

Last Wednesday, the largest scientific experiment ever was begun. A particle accelerator, called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), straddling the French-Swiss border sent two streams of protons hurling at each other at light speed from either side of a 17 mile circular tunnel about 333 feet below the ground. In just a matter of time, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known by its historic acronym CERN) may change the science of particle physics forever by facilitating the discovery of what our universe is really made up of.

What could be gleaned from crazy fast beams of subatomic particles racing toward each other? Well, the beams will crash and converge at four different places within the tunnel creating debris that may reveal a number of our universe’s mysteries. Particle physicists believe the debris may be composed of dark matter (or antimatter) – something we know little about that may be a crucial part of the universe. Many are also hoping to find the Higgs boson, referred to in the media as the God particle; a particle that could be accountable for the mass of all other subatomic particles. Additionally, some physicists believe LHC could reveal new forces of nature and extra dimensions not visible to the human eye.

A minority of physicists are concerned the LHC will cause a black hole or several small black holes that would eventually consume the entire planet. Two physicists, Luis Sancho and Walter L. Wagner, have brought forward a lawsuit in Hawaii to stop the LHC. The men claim the LHC is a “dark matter factory” that will destroy Earth. Despite their protests, the LHC was not stopped, and the majority of physicists do not believe it can cause harm as it will not generate anywhere near the level of energy necessary to create black holes.

So perhaps we are only a few years away from uncovering the secrets of the universe. Or, maybe we’re just a few years closer to being consumed by a black hole. Either way, there’s ample to read about particle accelerators, dark matter, and the Higgs all at the Austin Public Library. And, please don’t miss the rap created by a physics student helping out with the LHC on YouTube. If all of this doesn’t “rock you in the head”, the video hopefully will.

Before the Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe

Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters

Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics

The Hunting of the Quark: A True Story of Modern Physics

Quintessence: The Mystery of Missing Mass in the Universe

The Particle Century

The Shadows of Creation: Dark Matter and the Structure of the Universe

And don't miss these great articles on National Geographic's website:

The God Particle
Comprehensive article about the LHC and all of the science behind it.

Large Hadron Collider Rap Video Is a Hit

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