The world's largest experiment into the fundamental forces of nature began yesterday in silent pursuit of the answers to some of the more esoteric questions of science.
The Large Hadron Collider, a massive underground particle accelerator, successfully smashed two beams of sub-atomic particles together at three times the energy levels of any previous atom smasher – and without a sound.
"It's a great day to be a particle physicist. A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment, but their patience and dedication is starting to pay dividends," said Rolf Heuer, head of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in Geneva.
Two beams of counter-circulating protons were accelerated to energies of 3.5 trillion electron volts (TeV). This meant they collided at a record energy of 7 TeV, a level that should begin to unravel a mysterious new law in phyics called supersymmetry and even lead to the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that could explain why matter has mass.
The Large Hadron Collider has been built in a tunnel 27km long. Normally, supercooled particle accelerators are closed down several months each year for routine maintainance but Cern will run the Large Hadron Collider continuously for two years. It will then be shut down for four months prior to re-opening in 2013 when it will be run at twice the current energy levels – producing collisions at a maximum of 14 TeV.
"By starting with a long run and concentrating preparations for 14 TeV collisions into a single shutdown, we're increasing the overall running time over the next three years, making up for lost time and giving the experiments the chance to make their mark," Dr Heuer said.
John Womersley of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which funds Britain's contributions to Cern, said that achieving collisions at 7 TeV marks the start of a new era in physics research. "The LHC aims to explore the nature of the universe just moments after the Big Bang and will increase our understanding of how it was created, and what it is made of and how it will evolve," Professor Womersley said
"In the next couple of years this could lead to the discovery of a new law of physics called supersymmetry, which could explain the dark matter that seems to dominate our universe, and even to the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson particle," he said.Reuse content