at 1:30 a.m. CDT; Wednesday, Sept. 10,
when the world's largest scientific instrument
is scheduled to begin operation.
That's when scientists will flip the switch on the world's most powerful particle accelerator in an attempt to begin answering some of the oldest scientific quandaries. 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.
If the experiment is successful, the Large Hadron Collider can provide insights into fundamental questions, such as whether the universe has more than three dimensions, what it was originally made of and why most of its mass is hidden. It will uncover the most mysterious particle in Universe "The Higgs-Boson" or popularly known as "The God Particle".
James Pilcher is among six University of Chicago faculty members and more than a dozen research scientists and students, both graduate and undergraduate, who have contributed to the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. "This year, more than 11 of us will be in residence full-time at CERN, and the rest will be in Chicago," said Pilcher, Professor in Physics.
Along with Indiana University, the University of Chicago also houses a computing center that will support LHC data analysis for various Midwestern institutions.
Physicists at Chicago and elsewhere built the particle detector for the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) experiment at LHC, with the search for the Higgs boson and supersymmetry in mind.
Theoretically speaking, the long-sought Higgs boson is the particle that endows all objects in the universe with mass. Evidence of supersymmetric particles, meanwhile, could provide an understanding of the dark matter, which makes up about a quarter of the mass of the universe. GENEVA has been called an Alice in Wonderland investigation into the makeup of the universe — or dangerous tampering with nature that could spell doomsday.
Whatever the case, the most powerful atom smasher ever built is set to be started up for testing Wednesday in Switzerland, an event eagerly anticipated by scientists worldwide. The multibillion-dollar Large Hadron Collider will come ever closer to re-enacting the big bang, the theory that a colossal explosion produced the universe.
The machine at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, promises scientists a closer look at the makeup of matter, filling in gaps in knowledge or possibly reshaping theories. The first beams of protons will be fired around the 17-mile tunnel to test the controlling strength of the world's largest superconducting magnets. It will still be about a month before beams traveling in opposite directions are brought together in collisions that some skeptics fear could create micro "black holes" and endanger the planet.
The project has attracted researchers of 80 nationalities, some 1,200 of them from the United States, which contributed $531 million of the project's price tag of nearly $4 billion. The CERN collider is designed to push a proton beam close to the speed of light, whizzing 11,000 times a second around the tunnel 150 to 500 feet under the bucolic countryside on the French-Swiss border.
Once the beam is successfully fired counterclockwise, a clockwise test will follow. Then the scientists will aim the beams at each other so that protons collide, shattering into fragments and releasing energy under the gaze of detectors filling cathedral-sized caverns at points along the tunnel.
CERN dismisses the risk of micro black holes, subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars. But the skeptics have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii and in the European Court of Human Rights to stop the project. They unsuccessfully mounted a similar action in 1999 to block the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York state.
Meanwhile, scientists have found innovative ways to explain the concept in layman's terms. The team working on one of the four major installations in the tunnel — the ALICE, or "A Large Ion Collider Experiment" — produced a comic book featuring Carlo the physicist and a girl called Alice to explain the machine's investigation of matter a split second after the big bang.