Cern's Large Hadron Collider powers up

Cern's Large Hadron Collider powers up

Summary: The world's largest machine switched on for the biggest scientific experiment of the 21st century shortly after 8.15am on Wednesday

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Shortly before 8.30am on Wednesday, scientists at Cern turned on the Large Hadron Collider for the first time. Within one hour, a particle beam had been successfully circulated through the machine.

The world's most powerful particle accelerator to date, the system is designed to recreate the conditions that existed a millionth of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang, or the birth of the universe. By smashing particles together at unprecedented — in man-made terms — energies, the scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) hope to answer questions such as why some subatomic particles are heavier than others, and how particles were formed in the first place.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the world's largest machine, is housed in a 27km-long circular tunnel located 100m under the Alps, straddling the Swiss-French border. Wednesday saw the first attempt to circulate a particle beam around the entire ring, but no attempt was be made to create collisions on this date. Rather, the work towards that goal with the LHC and its detectors will now continue.

One specific particle that the scientists want to detect is the 'Higgs boson'. The confirmation of the existence of this as-yet-unobserved particle would validate much of what is currently believed to be true about physics.

The LHC is the world's largest cryogenic installation. In preparation for Wednesday's initiation, 37,000 tonnes of equipment had to be cooled down by 300°C to 1.9° above absolute zero (-271°C). The machine also uses the world's most advanced superconducting magnet technologies. LHC's conception and construction involved 10,000 people from 500 institutes in 50 countries.

Elements of the LHC system were successfully tested in August to ensure exact synchronisation.

Cern's first particle accelerator, the proton Synchro-Cyclotron, was built in 1957. The LHC, by contrast, will be seven times more powerful than any existing particle accelerator today. Within the next few years, Cern hopes to be colliding particles at 30 times the intensity of older particle accelerators.

The UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has invested more than half a billion pounds in the project. This includes the UK's subscription to Cern and the funding that has gone into the UK institutes that were involved in the construction of the LHC's detectors. It also includes the GridPP, the UK's contribution to the grid computing network established to handle the vast amounts of data that will be generated by the project. Through GridPP, the UK is providing 15 percent of the computing power in that network.

"We are trying to find out what everything is made of; what we are made of; the smallest pieces inside us; every atom," Peter Watkins, professor of the University of Birmingham's School of Physics and Astronomy, said in a statement.

"We're also trying to understand how the universe started," Watkins continued. "We're trying to understand what happened shortly after the Big Bang, and we need to look at these tiny particles to understand that better. However, to achieve this, when we study things at the Large Hadron Collider, we need equipment which challenges technology and industry to the limit. And we push electronics and computers right to the leading edge of the subject."

Topic: Emerging Tech

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • CERN Fiasco - the end of the world is nigh

    It appears that the Media has frightened the people to death with the notion that today the world may end. I had numerous calls over the last 7-days from family and contacts asking what will happen on Wednesday 10th Sept. I told them absolutely nothing. In fact some people who I had considered previously level-headed were literally unhinged about the whole matter.
    But the worst part of this media hype is that the collision of protons does not actually happen until October. Therefore in their quest to sell newspapers they have literally conned the people, as today was no more than switching on the electrical systems and testing if protons would travel the 17 miles long system at CERN.

    When October comes, the Media will again most likely frighten everyone again to death again, just in the quest to sell their goods. Isn't it time therefore that the Media got their facts right and apologized to the people who they have conned - their readers. Indeed one guy had a letter posted in the Guardian stating that it was their last publication. Therefore one has to ask, has the Guardian also lost their marbles ?

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation Charity (WIFC)
    Bern, Switzerland
  • how much money?

    Isn't it amazing how as human beings we have our priorities in the right order.

    People starving all over the world, cancer ripping through our cells, hospitals don't have enough money, everything going private, old people not warm enough in their homes, children dying everyday from curable diseases as the country they are in is not rich enough to provide, and here we are ... spending billions of dollars on men so they can play grown ups with a collision chamber that will teach us nothing about 'ourselves' apart from what are made from and how the universe started - um how long ago?

    Which as far as I only know wont help anything or anyone, however i'm not a scientist... just your normal average human being.

    Will they be able to cure cancer?
    give money back to the much needed starving countries?

    Will we suddenly all be enlightened beings capable of loving each other without murder and hate, because wow if that's what's going to happen then great, but all I foresee is a bunch of hungry men rubbing their greedy hands afterwards at what surely will be a massive slap in the face for everyone else on this planet just trying to survive.
  • huh?

    "In preparation for Wednesday's initiation, 37,000 tonnes of equipment had to be cooled down by 300
  • I think it must be really important...

    I'm not a scientist either, but I think that science is a really high priority for a human kind. No money can save all the people from dying or starving. But science may be able. Simply put science = civilization. In your case civilization = less starvation, better medical support and so forth. Without science human race would be just a bunch of animals roaming around the world, needless to mention internet or computers...
  • Whoops

    Right you are - sentence now split to reflect, er, reality... My bad!
    David Meyer