31 March 2010

Big Bang a spectacular success

The auditorium is packed with visitors, journalists and researchers, who are following the live broadcasts from the research centre CERN in Switzerland. Will they succeed in carrying out the first collisions at 7 TeV in the giant particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, LHC? It will be a tripling of the previous energy levels and will break all world records and with that open a whole new era in the world of physics.

At 9:00 the broadcasts begin. But the security system reports that there are problems. ”The magnets need to be cooled down to almost absolute zero, minus 271 degrees. At this temperature the magnets become superconducting, that is to say, they can conduct electricity without resistance and without becoming hot. But there was an electrical disturbance and since that could mean a danger that the magnets might seize up, the security system turned off the current”, explains particle physicist Jørgen Beck Hansen.

At 10:15 the announcement comes from CERN that they need to go down to the magnets in the accelerator. It will take another hour before they can turn on the power and begin to accelerate protons around the accelerator, where they will travel around in opposite directions at almost the speed of light and then collide.

Solving the mysteries of physics
The purpose of the collisions is to smash the protons into even smaller components and new particles may actually be created and all of the fragments will fly out in all directions. The paths can be seen using the huge detectors at four locations along the accelerator and by analysing the paths it is the researcher’s great dream to find answers to some of the great unsolved mysteries, for example, what creates gravity. They are looking for the so-called Higgs particle, which according to the theoretical Standard Model gives everything mass. The experiments are also working with big questions like the universe’s primordial soup and which natural forces caused the universe to be formed and to look like we know it today. 

But will they succeed in carrying out the first collisions today?

At 11:15 they begin to accelerate protons in the accelerator again – called the beam. It dives a little, but quickly comes up again. An hour later there is still a beam. It is running stable now. At 12:15 they are up to 3 TeV (3 Tera-electron Volt).

Cheers among the researchers
A little before one, just before it happens – the room begins to buzz and vibrate with energy. There is a countdown, just like in the control room of a space mission. They reach 3.5 TeV, and in the control room at CERN they are clapping. 

At 13:08 the first collisions take place and now the cheers break out in the auditorium at the Niels Bohr Institute, where all of the researchers have been following the broadcast from CERN. It is a historic moment.

”When you look at such images, you just say YES” exclaims particle physicist Troels Petersen enthusiastically and adds that ”now starts 10 years of work. We believe that the world consists of atoms, but it’s a lie! Five percent of the world consists of atoms. We don’t know what the rest is. Hopefully there will be some exciting new discoveries”. An exciting new era for physics has begun. 

See film about the ATLAS-experiment >>
See film about the ALICE-experiment, part 1 >>

See film about the ALICE-experiment, part 2 >>