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Bang

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Published by Sainath Manikonda
On the Big Bang experiment at CERN and the feared D-Day.
On the Big Bang experiment at CERN and the feared D-Day.

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Published by: Sainath Manikonda on Nov 06, 2008
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06/14/2009

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THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER EXPERIMENT: IS D-DAY DEFERRED?
In recent memory no scientific experiment has created as muchexcitement and consternation as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)experiment in CERN, Geneva. The awe-inspiring anticipation that thesecret to the creation of matter and the universe is finally to beunraveled has kept one group waiting with bated breaths for theoutcome of this experiment.Science has always reserved for itself the unique benefit of generatingtechnological thrills for the benefit of mankind. While mechanicalcontraptions and electrical and electronic devices ruled the roost tillthe turn of 21
st
century, rapid advances in nanotechnology,microbiology, superconductivity and other areas of science promise toexpand the horizons of comfort in our daily lives. In the light of suchappealing good times ahead, the sudden appearance of news that theCERN experiment could possibly spell the end of earth came like a boltfrom the blue and certainly put the scare into some folks.What is the experiment all about? How much of the information is true?What can we expect from this endeavour? These are some of thequestions the present article attempts to briefly address. Perhaps atthe end of it, the discerning reader could decide if we really need tofear the outcome of this experiment.
1.What is the experiment about?
 The LHC experiment is basically designed to replicate thesituation that existed about a billionth of a second after the BigBang took place. This was the time frame which signaled theorigin of material universe and the fundamental forces that
 
govern its dynamics. Though Newton’s laws on how gravity actson mass have been around for some time now, there is still noplausible quantum theory of gravity to explain how mass itself was generated. Moreover, Vera Rubin and Kent Ford’s work at theKitt National Observatory in Arizona, USA, laid the foundation forthe discovery of “dark matter”, which cannot be seen in theconventional sense, and yet pervades close to 60% of thisuniverse. Extensions of the currently prevailing “Standard Model”accommodate the dark matter in the form of Supersymmetryand String theories. According to these current theories, particlesacquire their mass through interactions with an all-pervasivefield called the Higgs field. Though this field is supposed to beeverywhere and at the bottom of all matter, it has still remainedelusive to the probing science of man. This is one reason why theHiggs Boson, which carries this Higgs Field, is dubbed “God’sparticle.The LHC experiment seeks to find this mysteriousparticle and many other particles called “super-partnersof many of the known particles, some of which could serve as darkmatter candidates and hence seek answers to the origin of universe and dark matter.
2.How is it being done?
 The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is a mammoth machinethat is the culmination of 20 years of single pointed attention of scientists, engineers and technicians. It is also the most complexmachine ever built by man. The CERN website lists someastounding statistics about this complex instrument. With acircumference just less than 27 km, and straddling the Frenchand Swiss territories, it nestles more than 100 m underground.At full power, the LHC will accelerate protons to 99.9% the speedof light, which loosely means that under the same conditions
 
existing in the collider, they could rotate around the earth about700 times by the time we blink our eyes once. Imparting anenergy of 7 TeV to each proton (CERN reminds us that thisenergy is about the same possessed by a mosquito in flight!),they will induce trillions of such protons to race around the cavityof the collider in a beam that is about as thick as a strand of hair.Zipping around at such dizzying speeds in a cavity that ismaintained at a temperature comparable to that of outer space(about -270 degree Centigrade comparably, the coldestrecorded temperature on earth is -89 degree Centigrade at theRussian Vostok station in Antarctica) they would then smash intoeach other creating temperatures more than 100 000 timeshotter than the heart of the sun! It is in these extreme conditionsthat scientist hope to find the Higgs Boson and answer severalcritical questions about the origin of matter.On September 10
th
, the day feared by some as the D-day thatwould end the world, CERN successfully steered the first beam of protons fully around the entire accelerator cavity. The plan wasto first spend the first few weeks in helping the CERN scientists,engineers and technicians to gain experience and get used tothis complex machine. It was only later that the acceleratorsystems were to be systematically brought into play to ramp upthe protons to terrific speeds that would finally culminate in theircollisions. However, on September 19
th
, a large quantity of helium (used to keep the superconducting coils of the magnetscooled) leaked into the main tunnel, forcing the scientists totemporarily shut down the system. After diagnostics and repairs,the LHC is expected to be run again only around April 2009.

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