Understanding the Large Hadron Collider
Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Her research connects theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of the properties and interactions of matter. She has developed and studied a wide variety of models to address these questions, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space. Her work has involved improving our under-standing of the Standard Model of particle physics, supersymmetry, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. Randall’s research also explores ways to experimentally test and verify ideas and her current research focuses in large part on the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter searches and models.
Randall has also had a public presence through her writing, lectures, and radio and TV appearances. Randall’s books, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions and Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World were both on the New York Times’ list of 100 Notable Books of the Year. Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space was released as a Kindle Single in the summer of 2012 as an update with recent particle physics developments.
Randall’s studies have made her among the most cited and influential theoretical physicists and she has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific endeavors. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a past winner of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Randall is an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the British Institute of Physics. In 2003, she received the Premio Caterina Tomassoni e Felice Pietro Chisesi Award, from the University of Rome, La Sapienza. In 2006, she received the Klopsteg Award from the American Society of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for her lectures and in 2007 she received the Julius Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society for her work on elementary particle physics and cosmology and for communicating this work to the public.
Randall has also pursued art-science connections, writing a libretto for Hypermusic: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes that premiered in the Pompidou Center in Paris and co-curating an art exhibit for the Los Angeles Arts Association, Measure for Measure, which was presented in Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, at the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University, and at Harvard’s Carpenter Center. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Andrew Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics, which is given annually for significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics.
Professor Randall was on the list of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2007 and was one of 40 people featured in The Rolling Stone 40th Anniversary issue that year. Prof. Randall was featured in Newsweek's "Who's Next in 2006" as "one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation" and in Seed Magazine's "2005 Year in Science Icons". In 2008, Prof. Randall was among Esquire Magazine's “75 Most Influential People.”
Professor Randall earned her PhD from Harvard University and held professorships at MIT and Princeton University before returning to Harvard in 2001. She is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Brown University, Duke University, Bard College, and the University of Antwerp.
Big Think: What is the Large Hadron Collider?
Lisa Randall: Well so what the Large Hadron Collider is—it's called the LHC more familiarly—it collides together two protons. So there's underground rings, an underground ring 27 kilometers in circumference. And what happens is proton beams go around and they're accelerated by magnetic fields as they go around. And they go in opposite directions, and there are two beams accelerated to extremely high energy, and then they collide together. And when they collide together, constituents inside the protons become energy, and that energy can turn into particles with mass because after all, E=mc2; which is to say if you have a lot of energy, you can make particles that have big mass. And so the idea is to make particles that you wouldn't have been able to have seen before on earth, because they're just heavier than things that would have been accessible to us. And by looking at what those particles are—"what are their properties, what are forces that apply at those scales?"—we're trying to understand what's happening at shorter distances; what's happening at higher energies; what are the more basic ingredients of matter; what are the more fundamental forces?
One thing we're trying to find is called the Higgs particle, which is associated with particles acquiring mass. But we're also trying to answer this big question about the hierarchy problem which might very well entail notions such as super-symmetry, which is an extension of space-time symmetry, or even space-time itself as we've discussed. And if it turns out these extra dimensional theories are right, there would be new particles called Kaluza-Klein particles—particles that have mass because they travel in extra dimensions. And it would be a radical insight into the nature of our universe. Kaluza was the first person who introduced the idea of an extra dimension of physics in 1919. And he was trying to unify the forces that were known then, which were only gravity and electromagnetism. And he proposed an extra dimension of space, and he realized Einsteins theory allowed an extra dimension, and he tried to work out the consequences of the theory.
Kline was the person who suggested that this extra dimension was tiny, it was rolled up, and thats why we dont see it. So Kaluza-Klein particles are named after the two of them.
Recorded On: 11/2/07
The Harvard physicist explains the design and goals of the 27 kilometer-wide proton-smasher in Switzerland that physicist hope will unlock the secrets of the universe.