World’s Largest ‘Particle Collider’ to Answer ‘How Does the Universe Exist?’

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In July 2012, the massive particle collider known as “Large Hadron Collider” – owned and operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) – confirmed the existence of the “Higgs boson,” a keystone to understanding the creation of the universe.

Now, after a two-year break and numerous technical upgrades, the world’s largest particle collider is scheduled to begin its second round of experiments in the coming weeks to answer the question, “How does the universe exist?”

What does the “Large Hadron Collider” do?
Located 328 ft. below the ground near the French-Swiss border, the $9-billion machine, conceived in the early 1980s and built in 2008, is embedded in a 16.8-miles-long circular tunnel (think: a closed loop) in which sub-atomic particles are accelerated to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light.

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Guided by superconducting magnets, two counter-rotating beams of high-energy protons (enough to deliver the energy of a 400-ton train traveling at 90+ mph) move around the circular tunnel hundreds of times per second to ultimately crash into each other at precisely four points around the machine.

There, at the point of high-energy collision, which causes the particles to break apart, huge detectors collect data from the resulting debris in an attempt to find new kinds of particles that might form due to the pieces of proton-debris recombining in exotic new ways.

Here is a video that describes the seemingly impossible process as well as how the machine works:

Why Do We Need New, Exotic Particles?
The simplest way to answer this question is that scientists are not satisfied with what we know about the universe so far. Members of the scientific community have widely accepted what is called the “standard model of physics,” which provides a formula that helps predict the behavior of “matter” (learn more about the standard model here).

“It’s extremely efficient at making predictions, but we physicists don’t really like it,” Patrick Koppenburg, a Large Hadron Collider researcher, told VOX last year. In order to reveal the flaws of this standard model, such as the fact that it doesn’t consider the force of gravity and dark matter, scientists hope that sub-atomic particles will show abnormal behavior when colliding and breaking apart in the Hadron Collider.

Measuring these types of new behavioral patterns would help improve the standard model of physics and ultimately get us one step closer to answering, “How did the universe come to be?”

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Results of the Collider’s First Experiment
“In building the LHC, what we really hoped to do was either find the Higgs, or be able to exclude its existence,” Koppenburg told Vox.

That’s why the first results in 2012, the confirmation of Higgs boson’s existence, was a huge breakthrough for the scientific community as it provided much-needed proof that they are on the right track to understanding the universe.

Here is a video that explains the Higgs boson phenomena in simple terms with the help of an animated comic:

The Collider’s Second Experiment
“Dark matter is a real problem in physics today. It’s one of the big puzzles. We don’t understand what 95% of the universe is made of,” CERN physicist Dave Carlton told SwissInfo.ch.

“We know from astronomical observations that there is dark matter in the universe – probably five times as much as the normal everyday matter that we can see. So what is it? One very good possibility is the theory of supersymmetry, which predicts that dark matter is due to particles that we should be able produce at the Large Hadron Collider.”

Carlton is referring to “run two,” the next round of experiments during which particles will be accelerated to collide with nearly twice as much energy as before.

“We’re hoping to find things that were not predicted by the standard model. Perhaps particles that are so heavy that they haven’t been produced before, or other kinds of deviations,” Koppenburg added.

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Carlton explains that with the higher energy of the beams, “we have higher energy collisions and from Einstein’s formula E=mc2 that means we can make more massive particles. So it means we have much more reach and capability to produce very heavy particles than before.”

The plan was to produce the first proton beam by end of March, but due to a short circuit that occurred in one of the eight magnetic sectors, minor repairs will delay the project by a few weeks.

This is no reason for concern, however, CERN Director General Rolf Heuer explains, “All the signs are good for a great run 2. In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks delay in humankind’s quest to understand our universe is little more than the blink of an eye.”

The Large Hadron Collider will operate over the course of the next 20 years and will only be interrupted for maintenance and further technical upgrades.

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