The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is a pretty impressive little hole in the ground. It is really a massive physics project over 50 years in the making. It involves a collection of governments from around the world working to solve some of the mysteries of the universe.
Among other things, CERN has studied matter, antimatter, photon acceleration, particle formation and the uniting theory of everything, a so-called ‘God particle’ that will shed light into how mass, matter and energy are all connected.
To do this, a giant tunnel was built (nearly 27 km long) with massive magnets that accelerate particles to very nearly the speed of light. When they finally flip the ON switch in May or June, thousands of scientists will sit around to see if just maybe some of these little guys run into each other. That’s when the magic happens.
In the 90’s, the science minister William Waldegrave staged a competition for the best description of the mechanism on a single piece of paper. The winning analogy was of Margaret Thatcher – a massive particle – wandering through a Conservative cocktail party and gathering hangers-on as she moved about.
In order to collect data, an amazing number of computers will be used. So many that they would fill a stack of compact discs 40 miles high every year. Who’s the sucker who has to look at those readouts?
Peter Higgs, a scientist (and old man by now) believes the project will be worth the $10 Billion (and growing) price tag. He hopes to prove the Higgs boson particle that he theorized way back in 1964 to be true. We’ll have to wait and see.
Some impressive, even outlandish facts:
— The European particle physics laboratory’s accelerator will smash beams of protons against one another at 0.999997828 times the speed of light. It is housed in a tunnel 17 miles long, about the same length as the London Underground’s Circle Line
— When the tunnel was cut, the ends met with only 1cm of error
— Each proton will go around the tunnel 11,245 times a second
— The proton beam will carry the equivalent energy of an aircraft carrier sailing at 11 knots
— The superconducting cables used to power the LHC would stretch around the Equator 6.8 times. All the filaments would stretch to the Sun and back five times, plus a few trips to the Moon
— The cooling apparatus could keep 140,000 fridges full of sausages at a temperature a little above absolute zero
— The beam pipes contain a vacuum similar to that found in space.
— Engineers look for leaks so small that they would cause a car tyre to go flat in 10,000 years
CERN has had at least one interesting side effect. Back in the ’80’s, scientists at CERN wanted to create a way to share their information and data with each other. So, with all apologies to Al Gore, they thought up a little somethin somethin – The INTERNET!
In order to share the preposterous reams of data that will follow, they’re thinking of a brand new Internet like connectivity called The Grid. The Grid will make the Internet look like a garden hose compared to the power of a raging river.
So while they’re smashing particles and creating faster Internets, is it possible they are doing anything else. You have to wonder why 30 some odd governments are spending billions of dollars just to bang things you can’t even see into each other at speeds that don’t really make sense. Could it be for other reasons? Time travel, antimatter weapons or artificial black holes? We’ll find out in May!