Hope we sill here tomorrow to talk about it

September 10, 2008 12:09am CST
A trip to the beginning of the universe In temperatures colder than outer space, massive streams of protons will hurtle in opposite directions through a 27-kilometre long tunnel beneath Geneva later today, in an attempt to learn more about how the universe began. The atom-smashing Large Hadron Collider is designed to replicate the moment after the Big Bang, thrilling the scientists and engineers who have laboured for years to build it 100m beneath the surface on the Swiss-French border. It is quite simply a $9 billion genesis machine. By injecting concentrated beams of protons into the machine and watching them collide, scientists are striving to reveal more about the greatest event in history - the birth of the universe, the moment when everything we can see and measure, all the matter and electricity that makes up the stars and planets, was the size of a basketball, the scientists say. One of the four places where the particles collide is called ATLAS. It weighs 7,000 tonnes, and has more steel than the Eiffel Tower. At 25m high and nearly as long as an Olympic pool it is a unique mix of heavy engineering and cutting edge computing. Detectors surround the collision chamber and track the smashed remains that mimic the very first moments after the Big Bang. Aldo Saavedra is a theoretical physicist from Sydney University. He is one of the thousands of scientists around the world who helped design this project. "It's almost like the Apollo mission, where you're looking at every component, [seeing] if its working correctly," he said.. And he says it is just as significant as a landing on the moon. "In terms of discovery it is, because it's something we don't see [often,] you only discover one thing in a life time, in the lifetime of the universe." God particle At full beam intensity the particles will be shooting through pipes at the rate of 22,000 times every second. For the computers, that is like trying to listen to 50 billion phone calls all at once. The smashed particles shoot off in every direction and the computers and their detectors try to track them. The massive pile of data they generate is equivalent over one year to a stack of Bibles seven kilometres high, it is estimated. One particle they hope to find is called the Higgs boson or the god particle. No one has yet proved it exists. But it is fundamental to the theories of physics that define so much of what we think we know about the basic building blocks of the universe One way to think of the god particle, is to imagine any chunk of space in the universe as a very large barrel, full of a type of honey. Even in a vacuum this syrup of god particles drags on elementary particles like electrons, so they gather mass as they move. Large-scale science More than 100 years ago the electron was discovered in a table top experiment. Today the task requires the biggest scientific instrument of all time, to probe the tiniest things in nature. Just as the builders of the ancient cathedrals of Europe called on the best and brightest of their age, this modern temple of our time requires collaboration from close to 10,000 scientists from more than 50 countries. Emmanuel Tsesmelis is the senior Australian scientist on the project. He showed us around the spare parts of 'pipe', explaining why so much time, effort and money is required. "You cannot just go to Coles supermarket and buy the Higgs boson. There's a lot of development to be done," he said. "It's only at the end of the day - the end of the day is now - that we can exploit all that effort that we've been dreaming of for the past decades. "What we're trying to do is nothing more than trying to piece together how the universe is built up. "It's an endeavour which is of interest to all of us, and we all love doing it at some level, we all try to understand what is happening around us. [But] we're just doing it perhaps at a deeper level, a more finer, finite, dimension. It's nothing more than that." For many, this is the most profoundly spiritual structure of our time. But you sometimes hear people ask whether there any tangible benefits. The answer is yes. Spin-off benefits Like the space program, there are technological spin-offs. And CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is responsible for the machine, can make one particularly spectacular boast. In 1989, British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented a way for the physicists at CERN to share information more easily over their computers. He had in fact created a revolution in our life time. His work laid the foundation for the world wide web, the basic interface we use on the internet. With so much data generated by this experiment, scientists here have helped create a worldwide network of computers called the GRID, an extra layer placed on top of the internet, using it to share computing power. Another possible discovery from the firing up of the large hadron collider could be dark matter. When we look at the universe and calculate the movements of stars and galaxies, the mathematical models tell us that there is a massive amount of our universe that we cannot see. In fact physicists think we can only detect 5 per cent of what is out there. This is dark matter. But with this experiment, what we can't see could at last be revealed. And there is another dream result scientists hope for from this experiment: to bring together two currently incompatible theories of physics. On the one hand, Einstein's theory of Relativity and gravity tells us a lot about planets and galaxies. On the other hand, Quantum Mechanics tells us a lot about sub-atomic particles - how electrons, neutrons and positrons behave. This experiment could be the first step towards some sort of Theory of Everything - a very simple basic rule that governs everything that we know about. But even before the switch is pulled, this project has had its share of controversy. It is possible the machine could generate extremely small black holes. Some fear these mini-black holes could merge and become one big black hole that would swallow up the earth and perhaps our solar system. The vast majority of physicists though will tell you that, just as cute little kittens and man eating lions come from the same cat family, any black holes generated here would be harmless. Similar particle collisions happen millions of times every day, they say. It's just that with this massive machine, it's the first time we'll be able to observe them. http://au.news.yahoo.com/a/-/mp/5004290/trip-beginning-universe/
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