Skip to comments.A vast cavern is the stage for tests to find the 'God particle'
Posted on 06/09/2003 6:11:13 AM PDT by andy224
Atlas holds key to scientists' map of Universe By Mark Henderson A vast cavern is the stage for tests to find the 'God particle'
SCIENTISTS have taken a step closer to finding the God particle that is thought to shape the Universe. In a concrete cavern 130ft deep and bigger than the nave of Canterbury Cathedral, they will mimic the high-energy conditions that existed fractions of a second after the Big Bang to study a beam of energy a quarter of the thickness of a human hair.
The vast Atlas cavern, which was completed last week at Cern, the European nuclear physics laboratory on the Franco-Swiss border, will house parts of a giant atom-smasher that is expected to solve the most elusive riddle in physics.
When the £1.5 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is switched on in 2007, it will determine once and for all whether the Higgs boson, a mysterious fundamental particle held to give matter its mass, really exists. If the machine finds the boson, proposed by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University in 1964, it will prove that the Standard Model for the nature of the Universe is correct. If not, the maxims of modern physics will be thrown into disarray.
The boson was nicknamed the God particle by the Nobel laureate Leon Lederman for its centrality to the cosmos. Although it will be so small that its presence can only be calculated, not seen, the search for it requires some of the largest and most advanced scientific instruments designed.
The LHC itself is a ring 17 miles (27km) in circumference, buried up to 100m (330ft) underground, through which streams of protons will be bent by the worlds most powerful magnets and smashed into each other at close to the speed of light.
The new cavern, which will house the Atlas detector for tracking the Higgs and other particles, is 40m (130ft) deep, 55m (180ft) long and 35m (115ft) wide.
However, the proton beam that runs through both devices measures just 10 microns in diameter: less than a quarter of the thickness of the average human hair. Roger Cashmore, a British physicist and Cerns director of research, said: It is an astonishing feat of engineering. The consultants were on the verge of saying it was impossible to build. But the Atlas cavern is finished, the biggest of its kind in the world, and these experiments are going to tell us whether were right about the Universe.
The current best guide to the nature of the Universe is the Standard Model, an elegant theory that describes how most particles and forces interact. The Higgs boson is its missing keystone: without it, there is no good explanation for why matter has mass and therefore exists.
According to the theory, the Universe is permeated by a field of Higgs bosons, which consist of mass but very little else. As particles move through the field, they interact with it like a ball dropped into a tub of treacle, getting slower, stickier and heavier. Their ultimate mass depends on the strength of the interaction.
Though mathematics predicts its existence, the Higgs boson has never been detected. It is so heavy that the biggest atom-smashers, Cerns Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP) and the Tevatron at Fermilab in Illinois, have been unable to generate the high energy collisions needed to reveal it, although they have found hints that it is probably there. This is where the LHC comes in. It is 70 times as powerful as the LEP and seven times stronger than the Tevatron, covering all the energy values at which the Higgs might exist. If it is there, it will find it.
What is more, if the God particle proves to be a false deity, the LHC will unlock the secret of what is out there instead. If it doesnt find the Higgs, it will find what substitutes for it, Dr Cashmore said.
Jim Virdee, Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, and a leading Cern researcher, said: There has to be something else, beyond what we have found already, that explains mass. We believe its the Higgs, but Nature may be smarter than us. Either way, the results will tell us what is the right road.
The atom-smasher will accelerate protons so close to the speed of light that they become 7,000 times heavier than normal. The beams are bent into a circle by superconducting magnets, cooled by liquid helium at -271.4C, almost a degree colder than outer space.
When the protons collide, they are destroyed in a huge burst of energy. This energy coalesces into very heavy particles, one of which scientists hope will be the Higgs.
As the boson is unstable, it will quickly decay, scattering a characteristic signature of smaller particles and energy. These will be picked up by the LHCs eyes the Atlas and a sister detector which surround the collision points.
The detectors, which stand 22m (72ft) and 15m (49ft) tall respectively, are giant microscopes built like onions, with several layers of instruments that track particles and measure energy.
The experiments will generate enormous quantities of data, much of it unwanted. Colliding two protons is like colliding two oranges, Dr Lyn Evans, director of the LHC project, said. Youll occasionally get a collision between two pips, the interesting bits, but youll get a lot of pulp. We need to reject an enormous amount of data to pick out the important bits. Professor Virdee said that the data generated in one second was the equivalent of what all the worlds telecommunications generated in one year.
Even if this wealth of information proves the existence of the Higgs boson, the LHC will continue to serve scientific knowledge for decades.
Lets say we have the Higgs, Dr Cashmore said. Id feel warm and content for a few microseconds, then Id be asking new questions. Why does it affect different particles in different ways? It would be spectacularly good to find it Im not trying to knock it but it will pose a whole new set of problems. If we are an inquisitive society, these are the things we ought to be doing."
If you believe in eternity, we are always in the middle.
Apparently someone was offended by #80.
You're confusing real and virtual particles. You can always pry real electrons out of the vacuum by providing enough energy. Since electrons weigh 511 keV, it takes 1.022 MeV to produce an electron-positron pair. (Whether we're talking about real or virtual electrons, you have to produce a matter-antimatter pair to preserve such things as angular momentum and electromagnetic charge, while a Higgs, being its own antiparticle, can be produced as a singlet.)
[Geek alert: You may have noticed that this implies that the numbers of electrons and positrons should be exactly equal. In the early universe, they were almost--but not exactly--equal. After some time, they all annihilated each other, leaving the residue of matter we see today. The difference between "exactly" and "not exactly" is due to a phenomenon called "CP violation", which among other things establishes a direction to time. (And here you thought I was going to attribute it to the number of Hertz.)]
A virtual electron-positron pair, by contrast, is here and gone in a very brief time (order of 10-21 seconds). I know it happens, though, because for the brief time the pair exists, it constitutes an electrical dipole. Since space is full of these momentary dipoles, I can use an electric field to line them up, and get them pulling in the same direction. It is an experimental fact that the "empty" vacuum can be polarized in this fashion.
"Always" isn't the briefest time, but the longest time. "Never" is the briefest.
I've been on 6000 post threads. I treat them like telephone conversations. They have high and low points, then they end. I suppose someone is adding links to a superthread, so it's better if they fade away rather than get killed, but not tragic if they get deleted.
Absolutley. But don't expect to get anywhere with the Bible quote throwing crowd.
In the one Astronomy course I had in college, the professor saved the last lecture to discuss how Astronomy and the origins of the universe didn't clash with his Christian faith. I was very enlightening.
And don't feel bad, I'm loopy with or without meds.
If it is only one, then if I can borrow zero energy for an "infinite" amount of time and I can borrow an "infinite" amount of energy for zero amount of time, it appears to me that I can borrow something close to zero which keeps other things from occurring for a very very very ... long time. I also get the feeling that small pilfering is more likely than large pilfering. So looking at space that way, why would anything happen?
On the other hand, if many different particles can arise from the same point, I would expect something to "always" occupy the point.
Clarification please. "Always" and "never" don't seem to include the limiting concept of time, while "longest" and "briefest" clearly do include the element of time. In other words, how can "never" be equated to "brief" since the former is without time and the later implies some degree of time?
Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for the lucid explanation.