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It’s nearly Alice’s Big Bang day!

8 September, 2008


Wednesday 10th of September is a special day, not only is it my 40th birthday, but it’s also the day that the LHC at CERN is switched on and the first of the largest physics experiments ever is carried out. The LHC stands for Large Hadron Collider  and will hopefully answer some of the most important questions in today’s science.

The LHC was built to help scientists to answer key unresolved questions in particle physics. The unprecedented energy it achieves may even reveal some unexpected results that no one has ever thought of!

For the past few decades, physicists have been able to describe with increasing detail the fundamental particles that make up the Universe and the interactions between them. This understanding is encapsulated in the Standard Model of particle physics, but it contains gaps and cannot tell us the whole story. To fill in the missing knowledge requires experimental data, and the next big step to achieving this is with LHC.

Everything we see in the Universe, from an ant to a galaxy, is made up of ordinary particles. These are collectively referred to as matter, forming 4% of the Universe. Dark matter and dark energy are believed to make up the remaining proportion, but they are incredibly difficult to detect and study, other than through the gravitational forces they exert. Investigating the nature of dark matter and dark energy is one of the biggest challenges today in the fields of particle physics and cosmology.

The ATLAS and CMS experiments will look for supersymmetric particles to test a likely hypothesis for the make-up of dark matter.

Matter, from which everything in the Universe is made, is believed to have originated from a dense and hot cocktail of fundamental particles. Today, the ordinary matter of the Universe is made of atoms, which contain a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made of quarks bound together by other particles called gluons. The bond is very strong, but in the very early Universe conditions would have been too hot and energetic for the gluons to hold the quarks together. Instead, it seems likely that during the first microseconds after the Big Bang the Universe would have contained a very hot and dense mixture of quarks and gluons called quark–gluon plasma.

The ALICE experiment will use the LHC to recreate conditions similar to those just after the Big Bang, in particular to analyse the properties of the quark-gluon plasma.

Einstein showed that the three dimensions of space are related to time. Subsequent theories propose that further hidden dimensions of space may exist; for example, string theory implies that there are additional spatial dimensions yet to be observed. These may become detectable at very high energies, so data from all the detectors will be carefully analysed to look for signs of extra dimensions.

And this all happens on my birthday, so, the secrets of the universe will be revealed, or the whole thing will evapourate in a cloud of smoke!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 September, 2008 6:42 AM

    Hello, fellow geek! I’m so excited about CERN it’s quite, quite tragic. Happy birthday, by the way.

    Mike says:- Thanks Sven, the switch on went ok this morning and no unexpected explosions!

  2. 9 September, 2008 6:15 PM

    Happy Birthday Mike!

    Mike Says:- Thanks Dominic!

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