You’ve probably been hearing a lot about the Large Hadron Collider in the news lately. After 16 years the LHC seems to be in the headlines each week, breaking speed, energy level, and other types of records right and left. In fact, just last month the accelerator broke its previous record by shooting two beams of protons at an energy level of 3.5 trillion electron volts (TeV) each. Last week the accelerator finally began to smash subatomic particles together, producing temperatures not seen since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The LHC still has yet to be brought up to its full operating capacity of 14 TeV, but CERN physicists are saying that it won’t be too much longer.
As things continue to advance during this period of rapid development, you can keep track of the changes using the same system LHC engineers and physicists use to monitor the collider’s status and activity. CERN provides a live LHC status tool on their website with an explanation of its features. The page content, including current tasks, energy levels, and raw data for experimental collisions, is updated quite frequently by LHC operators. CERN also provides a wonderful 66-page LHC guide and FAQ for you to read. I should also point out that CERN’s document server provides a spectacular array of over 20,000 photos.
Once the LHC was operational, it was just nine days after protons were first circulated in both directions that an electrical connection between magnets halted all operations, requiring months of repairs. Other malfunctions during initial tests and operations included large helium leaks, overheating magnets, a broken transformer, and even a short circuit caused by a piece of bread dropped by a bird on an outdoor electrical installation. Many conspiracy theories started popping up from all over the world and circulated the Internet almost overnight. Some of these theories claimed that the LHC would open up a black hole that would swallow the earth, giving rise to the phrase “Doomsday Machine.” At one point, two well-regarded physicists formulated a theory that suggested that the experiments were being sabotaged from the future. Yet with regard to the LHC blowing up the earth or sucking us all into a black hole, you have to remember that Mother Nature thinks of this machine as a pea shooter compared to the cosmic rays that hit the earth on a daily basis.
Today the LHC may have the potential to explain the origin of all four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Physicists believe that at the beginning of time there was a single superforce that unified these fundamental forces. Finding it could be the crowning achievement in the history of science.
Through the LHC, we hope to finally prove the existence of the Higgs boson, which is the only particle yet to be observed by the Standard Model. There is a hypothetical, ever-present quantum field that is supposedly responsible for giving particles their masses; this field would answer the basic question of why particles have the masses they do or why they have any mass at all. According to CERN, “The answer may be the so-called Higgs mechanism. According to the theory of the Higgs mechanism, the whole of space is filled with a ‘Higgs field,’ and by interacting with this field, particles acquire their masses. Particles that interact intensely with the Higgs field are heavy, while those that have feeble interactions are light. The Higgs field has at least one new particle associated with it, the Higgs boson. If such a particle exists, experiments at the LHC will be able to detect it.”
Ultimately, what we want to get out of the Large Hadron Collider is something so fantastic, it could rewrite science entirely. We want to create something called sparticles (super-particles) that represent the next set of vibrations of the superstring. We are now on the verge of being able to detect signals from the eleventh dimension—signals from hyperspace. In the eleventh dimension, these four forces just melt together into one gorgeous theory that—if understood and proven—will allow us to “read the mind of God.”