World's largest particle collider may unlock secrets of universe

Mar 24, 2010
The LHC tunnel

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, could generate astonishing new insights into the Big Bang, the building blocks of the universe, the mysterious properties of dark matter and perhaps even extra dimensions in the universe.

Located at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva, the immense collider, which measures more than 16 miles in circumference, is expected to usher in a new era of particle physics research, enabling scientists to replicate conditions immediately after the Big Bang.

To that end, on March 19, the collider fired beams of protons in both directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise, at a new world-record energy: 3.5 trillion (or tera) electron volts. The LHC will soon collide these proton beams against each other, allowing physicists to analyze the particles produced in the collisions. CERN eventually plans to collide beams at a blistering 7 tera-electron-volts in both directions.

Robert Cousins, a UCLA professor of physics who has served as a leader of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN — one of the LHC's four main experiments — is hopeful the collider will lead to extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the universe.

"We're going to study the Big Bang as far back as we can take it," said Cousins, whose research group is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and who is principal investigator on a CMS grant funded by the National Science Foundation.

"The fundamental questions," he said, "were asked by the ancient Greeks: Where did we come from, what are we made of? How did the universe evolve and what are the forces of the universe?

"We think there are undiscovered forces. The history of physics is one of unification of ideas. discovered that the same force that makes apples fall also holds the Earth to the sun and holds the moon to the Earth. When I teach Newton's universal law of gravity, the key word is 'universal.' One law of gravity accounts for apples falling and the relationship between the moon and the Earth. Historically, optics, electricity and magnetism were three different fields; now there is one theory of electromagnetism.

"Nature likely contains extra forces that we have not found yet," Cousins said. "Any successful attempt to unify the known forces of nature will almost certainly unify some unknown forces of nature at the same time. The job of experimental physicists is to go find those forces. I am most excited about finding new forces that shed light on unification. If you're going to paint the complete picture, you need to know what the other forces are."

The LHC is one of the most complex scientific instruments ever built. Funding for it comes from many sources, including the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and the NSF. Ten thousand people from 60 countries helped design and build the collider and its experiments, including more than 1,700 scientists, engineers, technicians and students from more than 90 U.S. universities and laboratories supported by the DOE's Office of Science and the NSF. Participating U.S. universities include strong research groups from UCLA and seven other UC campuses.

Physicists may make at the LHC by colliding protons at high energy, which will make new types of unknown particles that decay down to the particles that make up dark matter, Cousins said.

The LHC will recreate conditions that existed less than one-billionth of a second after the Big Bang, and will do so repeatedly in a controlled way. Collisions of protons at energies as high as existed just after the Big Bang will be recorded by giant digital cameras. Eventually, there will be nearly 1 billion collisions per second.

Historically, high-energy particle physics has addressed the smallest pieces of matter and the forces between those objects.

"In the last few decades, an enormous amount of progress has been made in cosmology, which addresses very large questions, such as how the universe evolved from the Big Bang," Cousins said. "If you run the equations of general relativity for cosmology back to the Big Bang, you also need to know what the smallest objects in nature are and what the forces are between them in order to get close to the Big Bang.

"[UCLA professor of physics and astronomy] Edward Wright's cosmology measurements highly constrain the speculation of what the forces are between particles, what the smallest particles are and what dark matter can be. There is much speculation about what dark matter might be if it is not ordinary matter."

With a few exceptions, the particles that the scientists make will decay into lighter particles — some are common matter, like electrons; others are particles that are well understood, such as muons, a heavy version of an electron that decays after one-millionth of a second; and still others will be completely unknown, according to Cousins.

CMS is designed to measure the momentum, direction and energy of the particles that remain when the new particles decay. A second experiment at called ATLAS will use different techniques to answer the same key questions.

CMS weighs more than 13,000 tons and contains 75 million silicon sensors. It has a detector, "a fantastic device," Cousins says, that is like a digital camera with 65 million pixels and the ability to take 40 million photographs per second.

"My thesis experiment 30 years ago had seven channels to detect photons and electrons," Cousins said. "The experiment I did after my thesis had a couple hundred. CMS has more than 75,000. The technology is incredible.

"We're going to find out what nature has in store for us," he said. "We'll see and measure the particles that come out of the region where the clouds of protons collide."

The research is scheduled to continue for more than a decade. Thousands of researchers from dozens of countries are participating in the LHC project, and more than 2,500 scientists and engineers from 38 countries work on the .

"I'm among many people who see this as absolutely the highlight of their career," Cousins said. "I cannot imagine doing anything else."

Seven UCLA physics professors and their research groups have contributed to CMS, beginning with David Cline, who was one of the founders of CMS some two decades ago and who is still an active collaborator. Jay Hauser has devoted all his research time to CMS for many years and is currently a member of the CMS management board. Many other UCLA physicists and engineers, including professors, researchers, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students, have contributed significantly to the research over many years.

Cousins, a member of UCLA's faculty since 1982, began working on CMS in 2000. He has been teaching when not in Geneva. His UCLA courses in the academic quarter just completed included a graduate course and Physics 10, or Conceptual Physics, often referred to as "physics for poets," which he first taught in 1988.

CERN's member states include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The United States, India, Israel, Japan, Russia, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have observer status.

Explore further: Tiny magnetic sensor deemed attractive

More information:
Cousins to deliver free public lecture March 31

Cousins will present a free public lecture on the Large Hadron Collider and its physics at UCLA on Wednesday, March 31, at 7 p.m. The lecture, intended for a general audience, will be held in the Grand Horizon Room at Covel Commons. Seating is limited, and registration is required at events.pna.ucla.edu/lhc .

Provided by University of California - Los Angeles

3.5 /5 (19 votes)

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User comments : 23

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panorama
5 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2010
Great story! I can't wait until this thing gets up to full power.
broglia
1 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2010
Currently no mainstream theory predicts Higgs boson mass exactly. So if we find some, it will not help to any theory.

The thirty years old Heim's theory can predict mass and lifetime of most of particles even without collider experiments and Higgs boson. Even if we find Higgs boson, we will not be able to compute the mass of these particles more exactly, then the Heim's theory developed by single man enables for us.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2010
Physicists may make dark matter at the LHC by colliding protons at high energy, which will make new types of unknown particles that decay down to the particles that make up dark matter, Cousins said.
That's a loaded statement. Cousins assumes that dark matter are particles that have no energy, otherwise they could serve as a medium for the propogation of em waves. Then where does so-called "dark energy" come from?

How can ultra high speed collisions between bunches of protons simulate the conditions at the beginning of the Universe when all the evidence we have and are observing points to the fact that matter is actually separating and spreading and expanding outwards, as is evident in any "bang" I've ever witnessed?

Cousins is dangerously close to assuming that purely theoretical concepts are the gospel truth. I am more of the opinion that no old or new theories will actually ever be proved at CERN.
Bob_B
1 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2010
May, could, would, might, and all those maybe it will words. This is not news.

Physorg needs a section about dreams, and what science HOPES will happen.
droom
5 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2010
"How can ultra high speed collisions between bunches of protons simulate the conditions at the beginning of the Universe when all the evidence we have and are observing points to the fact that matter is actually separating and spreading and expanding outwards, as is evident in any "bang" I've ever witnessed?"

Think about it, all the matter in the entire universe was in one area at the very beginning. Collisions were bound to happen quite a bit with the amount of matter density during the first few seconds.
TrustTheONE
2 / 5 (4) Mar 24, 2010
One more CERN Hype-up news. They are jsut saying: "Hey, please dont forguet us!"
DigiMc
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
Even if some collision produces dark matter, how would they detect it?
frajo
5 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2010
I am more of the opinion that no old or new theories will actually ever be proved at CERN.
As observations never can prove a theory (they can only confirm it), I'm expecting the same. But I'd be really glad to see some hypotheses falsified. That's what I call progress of knowledge.
Slotin
5 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2010
Even if some collision produces dark matter, how would they detect it?
This is an extrapolation of two-three rather independent theories. One theory considers existence of supersymmetric forces, the second one considers, these forces will be mediated by some weakly interacting particles (so called the WIMPs) and third theory considers, these particles can constitute dark matter, too. One of methods, how to detect these elusive particle is the mass/energy balance of the products of collisions - supersymmetric particles are supposed to participate on it, thus resulting into difference, which could be detected in similar way, like the neutrino was detected originally.
SJO12345
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
I agree with Bob B and TrustTheOne. I keep checking-in to see if the LHC has found anything new and I keep getting told the same story. It might discover new dimensions, find the Higgs....

What was news-worthy here?
ALong
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
This is a stupid question, but in the picture at the beginning of the LHC tunnel, when you blow it up, shows a tiny home sized fire extinguisher. What for?

I might also point out that this came out of UCLA.
frajo
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
in the picture at the beginning of the LHC tunnel, when you blow it up, shows a tiny home sized fire extinguisher.
Legal obligations? As most of us know, the logic of scientists and the logic of lawyers are linearly independent.
CreepyD
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
They might need to use it to quickly extinguish the black hole that would otherwise swallow the earth haha.
I wish we would stop hearing the same story over and over though.
On with some actual discoveries!
Shootist
1 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
"World's largest particle collider may unlock secrets of universe"

Or not.

I wonder how much desktop science could have been accomplished with the fortune spent building, operating, maintaining and repairing this Great Machine?
droom
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
"World's largest particle collider may unlock secrets of universe"

Or not.

I wonder how much desktop science could have been accomplished with the fortune spent building, operating, maintaining and repairing this Great Machine?


And so caveman a who didn't bash rocks together wondered why caveman b bashed rocks instead of using that energy for the hunt. Caveman b discovers a new tool through chance, and instantly becomes much more efficient at the hunt than caveman a. Only curiosity separated the two at first, yet at the end the curious one was living a better standard of life due to easier hunting.

We will get better science and technology from this amazing piece of engineering. It will take time, but better understanding of particle behavior has always taken us forward in technology.
baudrunner
1.3 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
Think about it, all the matter in the entire universe was in one area at the very beginning. Collisions were bound to happen quite a bit with the amount of matter density during the first few seconds.
That depends on your particular take on the beginning. There is an inherent contradiction in your theory, droom. Cosmologists and astrophysicists are in agreement that there is an infinite amount of matter in the Universe, but that is a compromise, because that is also limiting on account of the fact that this assumes that creation is finished. And an infinite amount of matter can not be contained in any confined area, so Big Bang Theory needs to be refined.

In fact, creation continues at the periphery, where space and matter and time are constantly realized in an ever-expanding creation front. That makes much more practical sense.
yyz
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
"Cosmologists and astrophysicists are in agreement that there is an infinite amount of matter in the Universe..."

That's news to me. Got any refs for that statement. For years, astronomers have been trying to determine if there is enough matter in the universe to halt or retard expansion or to even lead to a "Big Crunch". All such studies to date have shown that the known baryonic mass in the universe is woefully inadequate for those scenarios.
Lordjavathe3rd
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
Just reading these comments that usually follow LHC articles, I've noticed that all the comments I like are the ones rated the most poorly. I'm beginning to wonder if it's because I like questions to be answered, things I don't like to be dismissed, and for all complicated information to be understandable. *chuckles* *exhales* *grins*
googleplex
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
The point is that LHC will either prove or disprove Higgs. If Higgs is disproven then it will force a re-write of the physics theories that predict it.
As they crank up the collision energy and collision density they might discover novel particles. These could lead to new theories.
Essentially physics has hit a bit of a wall and LHC results could take us to a new level of understanding.

Slotin
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
If Higgs is disproven then it will force a re-write of the physics theories that predict it

Which one? Neither Standard model or string theory, neither relativity or quantum mechanics predicts Higgs boson mass - so they cannot be falsified by it. If some theory cannot predict nothing specific about subject, it basically means, such theory is invariant to it and in fact it doesn't need it to anything.
frajo
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
Just replace "theory" by "concept". If the Higgs boson cannot be found, then the physicists will have to find a different explanation for the masses of vector bosons.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2010
The Higgs boson is just theory. Imagine, a particle which is responsible for endowing particles with mass. By what possible mechanism? Didn't Einstein teach us that the greater the velocity of an object, the greater the mass of that object, and doesn't physics 101 teach us that, where physics is concerned, particles are interchangeable with objects? Obviously, mass is a function of motion. The Heisenberg Principle is based on the motion of a given particle.

It is probable that new, previously unobserved, superlarge mediating particles that last for a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second before they decay into more elementary particles will be observed during high energy collisions at CERN. I only hope that physicists do not jump to conclusions, because a description of the actual mechanism whereby the theoretical Higgs boson is supposed to confer mass on matter particles has not been forthcoming.
ace61
1 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
What if black holes are not a gravitational force that acts on all matter, but a collection of monopolar particles that together outweigh and attract the surrounding polarity all molecular, atomic, and sub atomic elements. Is not light just the ability to change the surface polarity of particles based on the reflection of the energy of the source. if an experiment was under way to produce an abundance of monopolar particles the community of knowledge that would be searching for this enlightenment would BUILD IN SAFEGUARDS(within nano seconds of the impact of the protons.... or within nanoseconds of the crossing the streams). This community of explorers will see the relevance of protecting the thought that had gone into this kind of expansion of mankind. If a "photo" or "etching" of the existance of sub-sub-atomic particles is the goal, then buildup of a steady stream, or collection of such monopolar particles would not be necessary. A look at monopolar activity is in our future
ace61
Mar 30, 2010
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