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Atom smashing at CERN - what does it mean to us?


Atom smashing at CERN - what does it mean to us?


Science has rarely seduced so many. CERN’s atom smashing Large Hadron Collider has had the world transfixed and probably, for the first time in history, turned a particle into a global celebrity. Last year scientists sent shockwaves around the world when they announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson. But that was only one, albeit important step, in a long quest.

To discuss what is going on at CERN, as well as other issues, I -talk’s Isabelle Kumar is joined by Fabiola Gianotti, one of the lead scientists at CERN.

euronews: “Fabiola Gianotti, thank you for joining us on I-talk. For our viewers who may need a reminder, in a nutshell, can you tell us what the Higgs Boson is?”

Fabiola Gianotti: “The Higgs Boson is a very special particle because it allows us to understand how other elementary particles, like the electron – that we all know because it’s part of our daily lives – acquire a mass. It seems that it might not be relevant to our everyday lives, that is is quite an abstract question, but in fact it is not. Because if the elementary particles, such as the electron itself and the quarks – which are the fundamental constituents of atoms – did not have mass, the world and the universe would not be what it is. The universe would not exist or perhaps it would exist in another form.”

euronews: “Right now we’re going to go to our first question which comes from Belgium.”

Pauline, Belgium: “Hello, I’d like to know why the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle is so important?”

euronews: “So, you’ve been chasing this Higgs Boson for years. Why is it so significant, particularly to the scientific world?”

Gianotti “The discovery is really crucial for our understanding of fundamental physics and also for the structural evolution of the universe. We now understand how it is possible for some particles to have a mass while others remain without mass. And this is very important to understand the basic fundamental shape of matter. If the elementary particles did not have the mass they have, then atoms wouldn’t exist. There would be no chemical elements, no chemistry, and the universe would be very different or perhaps wouldn’t exist at all.”

euronews: “Given that our audience is mostly non-scientific based, could you give us an everyday example of how Higgs Boson changes our lives?”

Gianotti “Well, we know that the universe, this room, everything around you; is permeated by the Higgs Boson field. If this was not the case, then we wouldn’t exist because the electrons and the quartz, which are the constituents of the atom of which we are made, would not stick together.”

euronews: “Which is why it’s called the ‘God’ particle…”

Gianotti “Well, this is not really a definition that scientists like; but clearly it’s a key particle. It’s a key particle in understanding our own existence, the evolution of the universe and perhaps its future.”

euronews: “Once again, in simple terms, the Large Hadron Collider is being revamped. What’s going on?”

Gianotti “After three years of extremely successful operation, the LHC is being shut down for two years so we’re going to start again in 2015 with higher energy and higher intensity of the colliding beams. This should allow us to make other very revolutionary discoveries and other important measurements.”

euronews: “We’re going to go to our next question which takes us to Portugal.”

Mafalda, Lisbon, Portugal: “I’d like to know what you think the next scientific discovery will be?”

euronews: “So, what do you think will be the next significant discovery?”

Gianotti: “It’s very difficult to tell. Actually, research means we don’t know what we’re going to find otherwise it would not be research. For a scientist, as I am, finding something totally unexpected is the best possible reward for our hard work.

“For me, the most exciting result to come from the LHC in the future would be the discovery of the particle which is the constituent of dark matter which accounts for about 20 percent of the energy matter contained in the universe. This would be a revolutionary discovery.”

euronews: “Why would that be revolutionary?”

Gianotti “Today, we only know five percent of the universe’s composition, meaning that only five percent of the universe is made from ordinary matter – the matter of which we are made – atoms. The rest, 95 percent, is made from a form of energy and matter that we don’t know; and for this reason also they are called dark energy and dark matter. 20 percent is made from dark matter, so – clearly, discovering the particle that will allow us to explain 20 percent of the universe will improve our knowledge from five percent to 25 percent, that is obviously revolutionary.”

euronews: “The work at CERN is very sci-fi, how important is creativity and fantasy to your work?”

Gianotti “Creativity and fantasy are very important in science. Science and research progress thanks to revolutionary ideas that allow us to make important steps forward. There is a lot of technology, and routine work, as there is in all jobs and activities. However in research, ideas, innovation and intuition are extremely important.”

euronews: “We are going to go to our last question which comes from France.”

Julie, France: “It seems as though science is quite fashionable at the moment, does this change the way you work at CERN?”

euronews: “So do you think science has become trendy?”

Gianotti “I think so and I am very pleased about it, because knowledge is mankind’s wealth – knowledge belongs to everyone. It is the duty and right of human beings, as clever beings, to develop our knowledge of the universe and of matter.”

euronews: “As the work that’s going on at CERN has become better known, there have been downsides, because CERN has faced legal action in terms of people being scared of what is going on there. People fear that the work is going to create some sort of black hole. What do you say to those people?”

Gianotti: “Well remember three years ago when the LHC started up operation and people were panicking and claiming that it would destroy the world? It didn’t happen. The reason is very simple, no accelerator on earth will ever achieve the same energy and intensity as the collisions of cosmic rays which surround us in outer space. These cosmic ray collisions have not destroyed earth, so there is nothing to fear at all.”

euronews: “Fabiola Gianotti many thanks for joining us on I-talk. Thats all for this edition. Do send us your comments and questions either on the I-talk website page or on euronews’ social media pages. From the European Parliament studios in Brussels, I’m Isabelle Kumar.”

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