The Large Hadron Collider: The Who, What and Where of the Why Machine

Magnets in the LHC. Photo copyright CERNUnless you live in another dimension, you've heard about the Large Hadron Collider -- a 17-mile underground raceway where, just this week, physicists flipped the ON switch and sent protons looping from France to Switzerland and back again. News coverage has been everywhere: newspapers, magazines, and even an amazingly accurate rap video on YouTube. Here's an overview of some good articles and web content about the Large Hadron Collider, to get you up to speed on particle physics.

When protons smash together at velocities approaching the speed of light, tiny short-lived particles are produced. If we can see these particles and learn how they behave, we can answer some pretty important physics questions -- like what, exactly, is mass? The Exploratorium has a great website that explains physics' Standard Model -- what matter is made of, and how the different components of matter interact. In his op-ed piece in the New York Times, Columbia University physicist Brian Greene describes the particles that physicists are looking for: the Higgs boson, the supersymmetric particles, and the transdimensional particles. Is there really a fourth dimension? Or a fifth or sixth? We may soon find out.

The latest nickname for the LHC is "the why machine." That moniker originated on the physics blog Cosmic Variance. Hopefully this feat of engineering will explain why E=mc2. Or, say some, just open up a microscopic black hole that will swallow the entire universe. This is exceedingly unlikely, but, says the Telegraph, some scientists have still received death threats from folks concerned about the impending end of the universe.

These mysterious particles may or may not be linked to the end of the universe, but they were certainly abundant at the beginning, with the Big Bang. To learn more about the Big Bang and the evidence for its occurrence, check out QUEST's interview with Berkeley physicist George Smoot -- he won the Nobel Prize for detecting and analyzing the Big Bang's leftover radiation.

Parts of the Large Hadron Collider were designed and constructed by scientists here in the Bay Area. Scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory designed the LHC’s distribution feed boxes, which connect electrical power to the focusing magnets. And scientist from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center designed the ATLAS pixel detector, which, like a giant digital camera, records what happens after particles collide.


If you're more interested in pictures than particles, then check out National Geographic's photos of the LHC –- it is a beautiful machine.

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