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“Historic” collider operation begins

Sept. 10, 2008
Courtesy CERN
and World Science staff

The first beam of subatomic particles in the world’s new­est and larg­est par­t­i­cle col­lider went around the full 27 kilo­me­tres (17 miles) of the ma­chine’s length this morn­ing, sci­en­tists an­nounced.

“This his­tor­ic event marks a key mo­ment in the tran­si­tion from over two dec­ades of prepara­t­ion to a new era of sci­en­tif­ic disco­very,” said an an­nounce­ment from CER­N, the Eu­ro­pe­an Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Nu­clear Re­search based in Ge­ne­va.

Operators of the Large Had­ron Col­li­der cheer at the CERN Con­trol Center on Sept. 10. (Cour­tesy CERN)


“We can now look for­ward to a new era of un­der­stand­ing about the ori­gins and ev­o­lu­tion of the uni­ver­se,” said Lyn Ev­ans, proj­ect lead­er for the par­t­i­cle smash­er, known as the Large Had­ron Col­lider.

Col­liders, al­so known as ac­cel­erators, are de­signed to crash sub­a­tom­ic par­t­i­cles to­geth­er to find out what lies with­in them. Start­ing up a ma­jor new par­t­i­cle ac­cel­erator takes much more than flip­ping a switch. Thou­sands of parts must work in har­mo­ny, tim­ings must be syn­chro­nized to un­der a bil­lionth of a sec­ond, and beams fin­er than a hu­man hair must be made to col­lide head-on. 

To­day’s suc­cess completes the first steps, re­search­ers said; over the next weeks, as ope­rators gain ex­pe­ri­ence and con­fi­dence with the new ma­chine, its ac­celera­t­ion sys­tems will be brought in­to play and the beams of par­t­i­cles in­to col­li­sion. Once col­lid­ing beams are set up, there will be a per­i­od of meas­ure­ment and cal­ibra­t­ion for the col­lider’s four ma­jor ex­pe­ri­ments; re­sults could start to ap­pear in around a year, ac­cord­ing to phys­i­cists. 

The re­search is ex­pected al­low phys­i­cists to com­plete a jour­ney that started with Isaac New­ton’s de­scrip­tion of gra­vity in the se­venteenth cen­tu­ry. Gra­vity acts on mass, but so far sci­ence is un­able to ex­plain why mass ex­ists. Ex­pe­ri­ments at the col­lider should pro­vide the an­swer, re­search­ers say. 

The tests will al­so try to probe the mys­te­ri­ous dark mat­ter of the uni­ver­se – vis­i­ble mat­ter seems to ac­count for just 5 per­cent of what must ex­ist, while about a quar­ter is be­lieved to be dark mat­ter. They will in­ves­t­i­gate the rea­son for na­ture’s pref­er­ence for mat­ter over an­ti­mat­ter, a sort of evil twin of mat­ter. They also expect to probe mat­ter as it ex­isted at the very be­gin­ning of time.

Rumors have spread that the machine could be dange­rous. Critics claim it might gene­rate a mi­nia­ture black hole that swal­lows up Earth. But most scien­tists don’t seem to think they will be dy­ing any­time soon. CERN has issued re­ports pur­port­ing to con­firm the ab­so­lute safety of the ex­pe­ri­ments.

Tributes have been com­ing in from lab­o­r­a­to­ries around the world that con­tri­but­ed to the pro­ject. “The com­ple­tion of the [col­lider] marks the start of a rev­o­lu­tion in par­t­i­cle physics,” said Pier Odd­one, Di­rec­tor of the Fer­mi­lab ac­cel­erator in the Un­ited States. “I con­grat­u­late you on the start-up,” said At­suto Su­zu­ki, Di­rec­tor of Japan’s KEK lab­o­r­a­to­ry. “This is a his­tor­ical mo­ment.”


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The first beam in the world’s newest and largest particle collider went around the full 27 kilometres (17 miles) of the machine’s length this morning, scientists announced. “This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery,” said an announcement from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research based in Geneva. “We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe,” Lyn Evans, project leader for the particle-smasher, known as the Large Hadron Collider. Particle colliders, also known as accelerators, are designed to smash subatomic particles together to find out what lies within them. Starting up a major new particle accelerator takes much more than flipping a switch. Thousands of must to work in harmony, timings have to be synchronized to under a billionth of a second, and beams finer than a human hair have to be brought into head-on collision. Today’s success puts a tick next to the first of those steps, researchers said; and over the next few weeks, as operators gain experience and confidence with the new machine, its acceleration systems will be brought into play and the beams of particles brought into collision. Once colliding beams have been established, there will be a period of measurement and calibration for the collider’s four major experiments; new results could start to appear in around a year, according to physicists. The research is expected allow physicists to complete a journey that started with Isaac Newton’s description of gravity in the seventeenth century. Gravity acts on mass, but so far science is unable to explain the mechanism that generates mass. Experiments at the collider should provide the answer, researchers say. The tests will also try to probe the mysterious dark matter of the universe – visible matter seems to account for just 5% of what must exist, while about a quarter is believed to be dark matter. They will investigate the reason for nature’s preference for matter over antimatter, and they will probe matter as it existed at the very beginning of time. Tributes have been coming in from laboratories around the world that have contributed to today’s success. “The completion of the [collider] marks the start of a revolution in particle physics,” said Pier Oddone, Director of the Fermilab accelerator in the United States. “I congratulate you on the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider,” said Atsuto Suzuki, Director of Japan’s KEK laboratory, “This is a historical moment.”