From the moment I heard that the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013 has been awarded to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). I thought of sharing my experience of visiting CERN in Geneva, Switzerland with my readers.
A visit to CERN, Switzerland
Siddhartha at CERN, Switzerland.
The Big Bang Theory of the universe
We all must have heard about the Big Bang theory of the universe, proposed by Georges LeMaitre in 1927. According to this theory, the universe expanded explosively from an extremely dense and hot state, and continues to expand today .
Subsequent calculations have dated this big bang to approximately 13.7 billion years ago. In the first moments after the big bang, the universe was extremely hot and dense. As the universe cooled, conditions became just right to give rise to the building blocks of matter- the quarks and electrons of which we are all made. A few millionth of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons. Within minutes, these protons and neutrons combined into nuclei. As the universe continued to expand and cool, things began to happen more slowly. It took 380,000 years for electrons to be trapped in orbits around nuclei, forming the first atoms.
Our tour guide inside CERN is a retired professor
All these facts were presented to us in an accessible way by a professor at CERN. The more I heard the more surprised I became. Confirmation of the Higgs Boson or the so called “God particle” (a popular nickname of the Higgs Boson) helped us to unravel the mystery of the universe a little more.
What is Higgs Bosson?
The picture below shows the computer screen inside CERN, which explained the Higgs Boson. Higgs is the particle associated with the Higgs field, an energy field that transmits mass to the things that travel through it.
Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN
To find this particle, scientists used the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European organization for Nuclear Research.
The LHC at CERN lies in a circular tunnel 27km (17 miles) long. It is situated partly in Switzerland and partly in France. It took 10 years and thousands of scientists and engineers to build.
The LHC is used to shoot beams of protons into each other. When they collide, they create super-high-energy mash-ups that spew out subatomic particles.
The LHC is world’s most expensive and complex experimental setup
The LHC is world’s most expensive and complex experimental setup. It recreates the conditions at the birth of the universe. The LHC is in effect a Big Bang Machine.
LHC belongs to a world that can only be described with superlatives. It is not merely large: the LHC is the biggest machine ever built. It is not merely cold: the 1.9 Kelvin (1.9 degrees Celsius above absolute zero) temperature necessary for the LHC’s supercomputing magnets to operate is the coldest extended region that we know of in the universe- even colder than outer space. The magnetic field is not merely big: the superconducting dipole magnets generating a magnetic field more than 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s are the strongest magnets in industrial production ever made.
The extremes don’t end there. The vacuum inside the proton-containing tubes, a 10 trillionth of an atmosphere, is the most complete vacuum over the largest region ever produced. The energy of the collisions is the highest ever generated on Earth, allowing us to study the interactions that occurred in the early universe back in time.
The lady in the photograph beautifully explained to us the 20 different types of magnets, super conducting dipoles and quadrupoles inside the LHC.
Inside CERN – The world’s largest particle physics laboratory
CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory where world’s best physicists and engineers are trying to find out the answers to some of the most fundamental questions, like How the universe began and what is it made up of?
The sophisticated general purpose ATLAS detector at the LHC is used to investigate dimensions and particles that could make up dark matter.
From this building the physicists monitor and analyze all the data from the ATLAS detector.
Particle physics, which refers to the study of the fundamental objects of the universe is fascinating.
When I entered the museum, which is called the “Universe of Particles”, I realized that the urge to know the unknown has inspired the human race to achieve seemingly impossible things.
The quest for true knowledge challenges, intelligence, physical and mental strength, but at the same time inspires and leads to a fascinating world.
A replica of LHC placed in front of the museum Universe of Particles.
I would like to end my article by briefly focussing on the person who introduced the principles of statistical mechanics guiding photons in 1924 and after whom physicist and mathematician Paul Dirac named the one of the most elementary subatomic particles Bosons. That person is, Satyendra Nath Bose, the Indian physicist who made significant advances in the studies of statistical mechanics and quantum statistics. The conception of Bosons came from a paper jointly written by Bose and Einstein.
Although it is probably impossible for us to comprehend the complex science and engineering that goes on behind the LHC, I can surely salute the people who nonetheless push the limits of human knowledge and get inspired by their endeavor.