Posted by: Randall Niles | October 16, 2009

Ready, Set, SMASH!

“It’s called the Large Hadron Collider, and its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things.” (Joel Achenbach, National Geographic)

After a few stutter starts and break-downs, it appears that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) beam test of September 10, 2009 worked. Now, all eyes are set on October 21, 2009, when those beams are scheduled to be “smashed” together for the first time.

Fun stuff! And a great reason to re-visit the “world’s largest experimental machine” of all time…

The LHC is one of the most profound scientific projects ever conceived. It is located between France and Switzerland and operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The ultimate goal of the LHC is to answer huge scientific questions about the sub-atomic world, the massive cosmos, and their finely-tuned relationship. Initially, it’s an attempt to observe theoretical particles that scientists hypothesize should be there. Ultimately, it’s an attempt to understand the creation of the cosmos and the powerful complexity and design that permeates the particle realm.

What is Large? The LHC is the largest machine in the world. The two accelerator rings are five miles in diameter and nearly 17 miles in circumference.  It is the world’s largest refrigeration system with 9,600 magnets cooled to -271 degrees centigrade.  It has four large detectors weighing from eleven to 25 million pounds each, and two smaller detectors.

What is a Hadron? Hadrons are sub-atomic particles interacting with the Strong Nuclear Force. What is the Strong Nuclear Force?  It is the strongest force in the universe, yet only operates within the nucleus of an atom. It is the force mediated by fundamental particles called gluons, which hold together three fundamental particles called quarks, which make up a proton or a neutron. The Strong Nuclear Force diminishes in strength as quarks get closer and increases in strength as they get further apart. There in no known natural phenomenon strong enough to separate the three quarks. The second order effect for the Strong Nuclear Force is to hold protons and neutrons together in the nucleus of an atom.  This strong interaction is liberated during a nuclear reaction, such as what takes place in the sun, a nuclear bomb, or a nuclear reactor.

What is a Collider? A collider is an underground, nearly circular, vacuum tube accelerator, in which charged particles move in opposite directions close to the speed of light. The particles are accelerated and kept at a constant energy by electromagnetic resonators. The particle beams are focused by quadrupole magnets and maintained in their orbit by dipole magnets.  When the computers and detectors are ready, proton or lead ion beams are collided at four points where the two rings intersect. The two beams colliding from opposite directions doubles the energy released to an equivalent of 100,000 times the heat at the center of the sun! The detectors capture the moment of particle collision and the computers analyze the data for months and years to come.

What is the Intent? The ultimate intent of the LHC is to help scientists understand the nature of matter at the moment the cosmos was created. Why did matter remain when matter and anti-matter annihilated each other in an energy transformation during the creation of the cosmos? What happened to the anti-matter? What makes up the 96% of the cosmos we now call “dark matter” and “dark energy?” Does the “Higgs field” (aka, “God’s boson force carrier”) that mysteriously gives mass to particles really exist? What about hidden, extra dimensions of space that quantum models show exist?

“By smashing pieces of matter together…the LHC could reveal the particles and forces that wrote the rules for everything that followed.” (Joel Achenbach)

In a nutshell, the LHC is a huge scientific effort to sneak a glimpse into the Mind of God at the moment of creation…

Stay tuned next week!

And Keep Thinking,

Randall Niles

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