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The Standard Model
On Wednesday, the European Organization for Nuclear Research will inject high energy beams of particles into the Large Hadron Collider(LHC). Located underground on the French-Swiss border, the CERN facility is the most advanced particle research laboratory on the planet.
Physicists hope their experiments using the LHC will help them fill in missing pieces of the Standard Model, which currently requires the assumption of certain as-yet unobserved particles and processes. In particular, the long sought-after Higgs Bosun should become apparent (artist’s conception pictured at right). Finding proof for its existence is crucial to the current understanding of our universe. The Standard Model just doesn’t work without it.
Simply put, the Higgs Bosun is required if anything in the universe is to have mass. Without it, nothing would have mass. Without mass, no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no us. It’s easy to see why it’s been called the ‘God Particle’. Without it, or something that takes its place, nothing that does exist could exist. At least, according to our current understanding of the universe.
Should You Worry?
If you google LHC or CERN right now you should have no problem finding numerous blogs and articles predicting end-of-the-world scenarios as the result of the planned experiments. It seems everybody who took a physics class in high school has an opinion on the matter. Many of their fears revolve around the idea that a black hole will be created, which will swallow the earth. Looking around the CERN website, I came across these two quotes. You can click them to read them in their original context:
Whatever the LHC will do, Nature has already done many times over during the lifetime of the Earth and other astronomical bodies. The LSAG report has been reviewed and endorsed by CERN’s Scientific Policy Committee, a group of external scientists that advises CERN’s governing body, its Council.
The LHC safety review has shown that the LHC is perfectly safe,” said Jos Engelen, CERN’s Chief Scientific Officer, “it points out that Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists.
Though black holes seem to capture most folks’ attention, there are some other side-effects that have been addressed. For instance, the creation of things like cosmic rays, magnetic monopoles, strangelets and vacuum bubbles could prove to be interesting, if they occur. They sure make for some interesting reading, in any case. But the likelihood that any of these things could be a danger to the earth or any regular guy or girl on the street is practically zero.
Watch It Live Online
As can be expected of the most advanced physics lab on the planet, they’re making much use of the internet. Part of that includes the CERN Webcast Service, with 4 channels of video. Check it out for the schedule of live events. I watched a bit of it – it reminded me of NASA TV, which is pretty cool, when you think about it.
NASA deals with the infinite universe around us, and CERN deals with the infinitely small universe that makes us. NASA has opened us up to wonders we never expected but secretly dreamed of. Like the ice on Mars, the volcanos on Io, the galaxies of the earliest universe. CERN’s LHC project may introduce us to fantastic breakthroughs of the same magnitude.
Imagine finding extra dimensions of space, particles of dark matter, or just watching a recreation of the conditions in the universe, less than a second after it was created. These are some of the things more than 1000 scientists are hoping for.
But it most likely won’t happen Wednesday. All these things, the hopeful and the fearful, depend on collisions of the particles. The first collisions are scheduled to occur in October. Wednesday claims its fame by being the first day they will direct a beam around the circumference of the collider. (So even if the world is going to end because of this thing, it won’t happen Wednesday.)
There are six main experiments the LHC is designed to perform. Each of them are international collaborations, bringing together scientists from institutes all over the world. Each experiment focuses on answers to questions about the Higgs bosun, looking for extra dimensions, or why only about 4% of the universe is made of matter, to name a few. (which makes the rest… what?)
Over the next several weeks I’ll publish some pieces getting into more detail with each of these experiments. We’ll see why the collider had to be built mostly underground, why it had to be so large, and why what these guys are doing is so important. So, until then…
I am Jon, and I’m just a little bit hyped.
UPDATE 10 SEP 2008: The LHC Goes Live – 1st Beam A Success. Click the link to read the press release.