Collide and Rule: An Insight into the LHC

Scientific truth and inference has been and will always be man’s most coveted and most challenging quest. Man invests a significant portion of his existence, both materialistically and emotionally, to scientific conquest. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a gigantic science apparatus located on the borders of Spain and France is one such effort. It aims to revolutionize the way Man has hitherto understood Universe. The LHC is scientifically a particle accelerator that is being used by scientists to analyze high energy collisions like the one involving the birth of our Universe – The Big Bang. Till date only 4% of the particles that make up the universe have been discovered, qualified, characterized and studied. The remaining 96% “dark particles” have been a mystery to man for a long time now. Besides those intriguing scientific questions, the other major driving forces of this high money experiment are the understanding of ‘Dimensions’ and the explanations of ‘Big Bang’.

Inside the accelerator, two beams of particles called ‘Hadrons’ travel with very high energies and unimaginable speeds. The particles gain energy and speed with every lap inside the 27 km tube. The aim of the experiment is to create a head on collision of these high-speed, high-energy particles. A host of powerful magnets in different variants are used to direct the beams in their path around the accelerator. At around 7 TeV to 14 TeV, these particles are said to be traveling at 99.999% the speed of light. The results are analyzed using six detectors placed strategically in underground cavers around the circular accelerator. A bunch of efficient scientists who sit at CERN in Europe monitor the experiment closely from time to time. These scientists are from a varied set of backgrounds and come from different parts of the world making this an international venture. Scientists hope to recreate the Big Bang by these high energy collisions as the amount of heat and light energies generated are humongous like in the Big Bang Collision.

A variety of experiments are being conducted using the LHC. For instance, ALICE is an experiment that collides lead ions and tries to study the nature of the resultant “quark-gluon-plasma” which is said to have evolved immediately after Big Bang. ATLAS and CMS are variants that are used to study hypothetical Higgs’ Bosons and the proponents of “Dark Matter”. The mission taken overall is a highly risky one for the levels of energy involved and the cosmic rays that are to be emitted. Right from the rudimentary stages, there were questions on the safety of the experiment as a whole. Apprehensions over the risks taken in such a high-profile experiment have started to settle down only very recently. Many Scientists from around the world have voiced their vindications on the safety measures that have been taken and the credibility of the Lab conditions under which the accelerator is installed.

On 10th September, 2008 LHC completed its first successful collision and test after numerous trials. The protons completed the circuit successfully. But immediately, a week later on 19th September, a large quantity of liquid helium was lost due to some magnetic distortions (bending magnets) at various positions. After one year of investigations and efforts after the first major hiccup, 450 GeV collisions were carried out successfully in November this year. At a collision energy level of 7 TeV, scientists are planning the first Physics of the LHC collisions in the first quarter of 2010. To draw meaningful conclusions, scientists say that it would take between 1-3 years as collection of samples of that magnitude is quintessential to cite unambiguous observations.

Though questions on the value and effort put into this 9 billion dollar initiative have been making the rounds for over two years running, the value addition that the results could bring to Science could be huge. Concerns have multiplied because of the vagueness exhibited by officials in their answers to questions on the functioning of the accelerator and its performance details. But “If” the LHC can successfully explain what happened after the Big Bang, what created Life or why is the Universe as it is today, all would be worth the money. The findings could rewrite a plethora of already existing laws in Particle physics and tell/show the world something that we have never even thought of!. Nevertheless, LHC has drawn heap loads of interest and money from the Non-Scientific community as shown in the movies and books by Dan Brown and Robert Sawyer which topped the charts in the box office and book stores.

Pradeep Sekhar

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