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The Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine ever created, spanning over 17 miles in circumference, at a depth of 500 feet below the surface of the Earth, is set to go online in a few weeks. Although the studies that were scheduled to be conducted should have already been underway, a short circuit in one of the electromagnets, on March 21, made the scientists postpone experiments until it can be mended. Many people who follow news and new discoveries in quantum physics roughly know how the leviathan machine works and what can be found in the subatomic world within the machine. Though, many people have asked about what exactly happens when the Large Hadron Collider comes online. So, here are a few things that may give some insight into those who may not be versed in the field of quantum physics.
What is its purpose?
The Large Hadron Collider is used by physicists to test theories and predictions in the field of particle physics, most importantly, the Standard Model. The Standard Model is a genre of particle physics that concerns the theory behind the strong, weak, gravitational, and electromagnetic forces, to classify known and unknown subatomic particles and surmise their properties. In it, there are elementary particles called fermions, which make up matter, and bosons, which are force-carrying particles. The model is the attempt of discovering and identifying a theory of everything – the reason why and how things have mass.
The Large Hadron Collider uses two particle beams that send protons at nearly the speed of light at one another. By doing this, physicists are able to use nuclear fission to break apart a single subatomic particle to reveal elementary particle, the building blocks of the aforesaid particles. The one elementary particle that is most sought after is the Higgs Boson, know to scientists as the “God particle.”
The Higgs boson the the simplest manifestation of the theory behind the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism. As stated before, bosons are force-carrying particles. These bosons are related to the theorized field called the Higgs field. This is a field that when particles travel through it, they gain mass. The action of passing through the Higgs field creates the Higgs boson, an excitation of the field. Also, it states that there are close ties with both the weak and electromagnetic force in the Universe that cause this phenomenon. This attempts to define the notion of force-carrying particles, the photon, and the “W” and “Z” bosons. Though, none of these have mass.
It is currently theorized that all four fundamental forces in the Universe have a separate boson. Some physicists have explained that bosons are “weights” that are anchored by unknown strings to the material particles that birth them. They state these particles continuously come in and out of existence, a process known as quantum entanglement. If the Higgs field does actually exist, scientists will be able to determine why elementary particles have mass. Furthermore, the Large Hadron Collider may unearth some of the mysterious properties of things even smaller than elementary particles, known as strings.
String theory can be summed up by what world-renowned physicist Brian Greene calls, “the symphony of the Universe.” The theory attempts to quantify the four fundamental forces of the Universe that are: the weak force, strong force, gravitational force, and electromagnetic force. Many scientists try to explain the theory by stating the most fundamental structures that can be surmised are undetectable quantum strings.
Although the properties of these zero-dimensional “structures” are currently unknown, it was theorized that they vibrate a certain “frequency” that create all respective subatomic particles. In regards to the music of the Universe, it works like the strings on a violin. Each string on the instrument corresponds to a different note, as they resonate at a different frequency. Therefore, each vibration of a string is said to create separate mass and force charge.
Although this explanation may sound rudimentary and unsophisticated, one way to peer into the quantum world to find these strings is to blast protons and electrons at one another to break into the unforeseen world. Thus, using the Large Hadron Collider. This allows scientists to study the way in which each particle interacts with its counterpart. For example, imagine two billiard balls striking one another. Moments after the collision, each trajectory of the ball is changed due to force exerted by each other’s mass. Essentially, the same thing occurs when two particles are blasted apart in the Large Hadron Collider. When using electrons, and its antiparticle equivalent, the positron, they collide, emitting a flash of pure energy, a photon, the conclusion of Albert Einstein’s E=MC squared – the full realization of perfect matter to energy transfer. Though, when particles are slammed together at nearly the speed of light, some mysterious things can happen.
Sometimes, when two particles are slammed together in the Large Hadron Collider, they seem to disappear. Could this be that particles have the ability to essentially “tear” through space? Well, Einstein’s theory of general relativity states that the spatial fabric of the Universe cannot tear. The theory of general relativity identifies gravity as a geometric property of the Universe. Thus, the curvature, or warping, of space is dependent upon the momentum of mass through space. Therefore, space can only curve, neither tearing, nor being punctured. Though, quantum physics may be able to show that Einstein was, in fact, wrong. Some physics state that tears in the fabric of space can occur, leading to wormholes.
Wormholes are cosmic tunnels that transport matter to different parts of the Universe, and even parallel universes. For example, take a piece of paper and imagine it as the fabric of space, a piece of paper that cannot be torn. Draw a dot on the top and bottom of the page and fold it in half. The theory behind wormholes states that matter could possibly tear through one side of the paper to reach the dot on the other side, creating a tunnel that allows matter to traverse massive distances with in just a short amount of time, relative to the traveler. Some physicists believe that energy used in the Large Hadron Collider could possibly tear a minute hole in the fabric of space, causing the disappearance of the particle.
What is the benefit of the Large Hadron Collider?
The powerful collisions in the Large Hadron Collider will allow scientists to continue to discover new, possibly smaller particles. As well, it will help them look closer into the depths of quantum physics to better understand the Higgs boson and how it behaves in relation to the Higgs field. Physicists hope to find things that are not currently predicted by the Standard Model.
With right kind of data, the Large Hadron Collider will help create a better understanding of the world and everything that can be seen, and maybe unseen. Scientists also hope that the atom smashing could possibly delve deeper into the quantum world, past the elementary particles, and into the world of string theory. Also, by studying the way in which the the particles scatter after the collision, scientists have be able to grasp more knowledge about the possibility of parallel universes and how and why they exist, if found. One day, this work could even lead to the creation a new theory, a perfect model that fully describes and defines the behavior of all matter in the Universe.
By Alex Lemieux
Photo by CERN – Flickr License