The answers to some of the greatest mysteries of the universe could be hidden in a pipe, built a 100 metres below the outskirts of Geneva. On Wednesday, researchers at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) will switch on the century’s most powerful scientific experiment. The aim, to try and recreate the conditions present in the Universe seconds after the ‘Big Bang’, around 13.7 billion years ago.
Project Leader Lyn Evans said: “It’s been an immense engineering, scientific
achievement. It’s the biggest scientific project ever constructed in the world.’‘
But what exactly does the experiment consist of? Around this 27 kilometre pipeline, called the Large Hadron Collider, are four large detectors. Once started, scientists plan to smash subatomic particles, such as protons, in the Collider in order to create new particles. Reaching speeds of around 300,000 kilometres per second – almost the speed of light – scientists expect to produce around 600 million collisions a second. In turn, these collisions will create an array of particles, some of which have not been seen since the Big Bang.
Lyn Evans said: “One very important question is the missing mass of the universe. We now know that we can see only four percent of our universe. 96 percent is a complete mystery to us today. We hope the LHC will help us to elucidate where that 96 percent is coming from,” he said.
Beyond the question of mass, researchers on the project hope to find other answers to the mysteries surrounding life and human existence. The Collider should produce close to 15 million gigabytes of data every year. Once collected, it will be analysed in 200 sites around the world. About 5000 physicists and engineers have been working on the programme for the past 10 years. A project which could shatter elementary particle theory and physics itself. Some in the scientific community are fearful of the results, with several physicists claiming the experiment could create a black hole of such intensity, it tears the earth itself apart. Those involved in the project reject such alarmist talk.