by Angel Zhou, Branson School
|Large Hadron Collider, Switzerland|
This week, the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will restart after a two-year hiatus. The pause was intentional, giving technicians and engineers time to ramp up the collision energy intended to push the laws of physics to their limits.
The LHC, completed in 2008 by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at a cost of around $10 billion, is the world's largest particle accelerator: an extremely long underground tunnel that allows physicists to conduct some pretty intense experiments. In essence, these experiment involve shooting beams of particles around the ring, using enormous magnets to speed them up to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light, then crashing them together. Sophisticated sensors capture all sorts of data on the particles that result from these collisions. In particle collisions, the higher the energy, the bigger the payoff, as the energy of the colliding particles gets translated into the masses of the debris, following the E=mc^2 prescription. As particles collide, their energy morphs into a shower of new particles that come flying off from the collision point.
The LHC's biggest finding so far was the discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson. Since the 1960s, the Higgs boson was thought to exist as a part of the Higgs field: an invisible field that permeates all space and exerts a drag on every particle. It had been calculated that after being formed during a collision, the Higgs boson would immediately decay into other particles in a specific ratio. Data collected after protons were crashed together showed evidence of these particles in the ratio predicted. In 2012, after three years of experiments at the LHC, physicists confirmed the Higgs boson does indeed exist.
All the experiments conducted at the LHC so far are part of "run one.” After several years of upgrading the LHC's magnets, which speed up and control the flow of particles, and data sensors, it'll begin "run two": a new series of experiments that will involve crashing particles together with nearly twice as much energy as before. These more powerful collisions will allow scientists to keep discovering new and perhaps larger particles, and also look more closely at the Higgs boson to observe how it behaves under different conditions.
To learn more about the what scientists hope to discover with the updated Large Hadron Collider, such as mini black holes, more higgs bosons, extra dimension, and perhaps, pink elephants, join us on Wednesday, March 25th for Dr. Lauren Tompkins’ seminar, “Extra dimensions, mini black holes and.. Pink Elephants?: Exciting times ahead at the Large Hadron Collider” in Room 207 at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael. For more information, visit Marin Science Seminar's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1426190077679597/