1/23/08 - particle physics

In today's excerpt - the launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which with a circumference of 27-kilometers, will soon be the largest particle accelerator in the world. According to Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the LHC will usher in 'a golden age of physics' when launched in 2008:

"You could think of it as the biggest most powerful microscope in the history of science. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), now being completed underneath a circle of countryside and villages a short drive from Geneva, will peer into the physics of the shortest distances (down to a nano-nanometer) and the highest energies ever probed. For a decade or more, particle physicists have been eagerly awaiting a chance to explore that domain, sometimes called the terascale because of the energy range involved: a trillion electron volts or 1 TeV. ...

"To break into the new territory that is the terascale, the LHC's basic parameters outdo those of previous colliders in almost every respect. It starts by producing proton beams of far higher energies than ever before. Its nearly 7,000 magnets, chilled by liquid helium to less than two kelvins to make them superconducting, will steer and focus two beams of protons traveling within a millionth of a percent of the speed of light. ... The protons will ... produce more than 600 million particle collisions every second. ... The nearly 100 million channels of data streaming from each of the two largest  detectors would fill 100,000 CDs every second, enough to produce a stack to the moon in six months.

"When physicists are forced to give a single-word answer to the question of why we are building the LHC we usually reply 'Higgs.' The Higgs particle -- the last remaining undiscovered piece of our current theory of matter -- is the marquee attraction. ... The new collider provides the greatest leap in capability of any instrument in the history of particle physics. ... The search for the Higgs particle is a pivotal step, but only the first step. Beyond it lie phenomena that may clarify why gravity is so much weaker than the other forces of nature, and that could reveal what the unknown dark matter that fills the universe is. Even deeper lies the prospect of insights into the different forms of matter, the unity of outwardly distinct particle categories, and the nature of spacetime. "


Graham P. Collins and Chris Quigg


'The Discovery Machine' and 'The Coming Revolutions in Particle Physics'


Scientific American


February 2008


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