The world’s largest and most complex machine recently began cranking back to life for the first time in two years deep underground along the border of Switzerland and France. It is the most ambitious science experiment ever conducted by humanity, and the data it provides could help explain the most fundamental properties of the universe.
The Large Hadron Collider — developed by the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) with help from more than 7,000 scientists representing at least 85 countries — examines the tiniest building blocks of reality.
It accelerates packets of protons to very nearly the speed of light along an 18-mile loop of superconducting magnetic tubes, smashing the particles together. Sensors analyze the explosion, which produces smaller particles that flit into existence for just billionths of a second before decaying. Those particles are key to the current scientific understanding of, well, everything.
Take, for example, the Higgs boson, which the LHC helped observe in 2012 for the first time ever. It is a massless particle that comprises an invisible field that permeates everything in the universe. But when other particles interact with the Higgs field, they obtain mass. In other words, the Higgs boson could be the reason that matter is possible.
In its second round of experiments and after two years of upgrades that will allow it to accelerate particles at much higher energies, the LHC will continue to explore the properties of the Higgs boson — and look at even more bizarre phenomena like dark matter, higher dimensions, black holes and the possibility that gravity, like light, has an entire spectrum.
Tech Times reported Monday that tests of a “superconducting coil as part of the high-luminosity upgrade ... suggest that the new design, which involves magnets, will be right for its use in the LHC.”
That could help scientists further confirm the Standard Model, a fundamental framework of physics based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Or it could reveal data that force a sweeping re-evaluation of conventional physics wisdom .
In a way, discoveries allowed by the LHC are secondary to the monumental achievement of simply conceiving, building and operating the device. It is a testament to the power of science, curiosity and exploration to break down barriers to human knowledge.
And for the LHC, the biggest obstacles come in the tiniest sizes.