Mar 30, 2010 12:13 PM by Melissa Canone
GENEVA (AP) - The world's largest atom smasher conducted its
first experiments at conditions nearing those after the Big Bang,
breaking its own record for high-energy collisions with proton
beams crashing into each other Tuesday at three times more force
than ever before.
In a milestone for the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider's
ambitious bid to reveal details about theoretical particles and
microforces, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear
Research, or CERN, collided the beams and took measurements at a
combined energy level of 7 trillion electron volts.
The collisions herald a new era for researchers working on the
machine in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel below the Swiss-French
border at Geneva.
"That's it! They've had a collision," said Oliver Buchmueller
from Imperial College in London as people closely watched monitors.
In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the
first successful collisions were confirmed. Their colleagues from
around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new
record, which surpasses the 2.36 TeV CERN recorded last year.
Dubbed the world's largest scientific experiment, researchers
hope the machine can approach on a tiny scale what happened in the
first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the
creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.
The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about
the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence
of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical
particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and
thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.
Tuesday's initial attempts at collisions were unsuccessful
because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working
on the massive machine. That meant the protons had to be "dumped"
from the collider and new beams had to be injected.
The atmosphere at CERN was tense considering the collider's
launch with great fanfare on Sept. 10, 2008. Nine days later, the
project was sidetracked when a badly soldered electrical splice
overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and
other parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the
It cost $40 million to repair and improve the machine. Since its
restart in November 2009, the collider has performed almost
flawlessly and given scientists valuable data. It quickly eclipsed
the next largest accelerator - the Tevatron at Fermilab near
Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy
in opposite directions around the tunnel, the coldest place in the
universe, at a couple of degrees above absolute zero. CERN used
powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross,
creating collisions and showers of particles.
"Experiments are collecting their first physics data - historic
moment here!" a scientist tweeted on CERN's official Twitter
"Nature does it all the time with cosmic rays (and with higher
energy) but this is the first time this is done in Laboratory!"
said another tweet.
When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with
hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that
few will collide at each crossing.
The experiments will come over the objections of some people who
fear they could eventually imperil Earth by creating micro black
holes - subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so
strong they can suck in planets and other stars.
CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people
on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would
vanish almost instantly without causing any damage.
Bivek Sharma, a professor at the University of California at San
Diego, said the images of the first crashed proton beams were
"It's taken us 25 years to build," he said. "This is what
it's for. Finally the baby is delivered. Now it has to grow."