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Wednesday
Oct062010

The Big Bang in a bottle

Creating the Big Bang in a bottle... give a child a toy he or she is curious about and you will soon see a dramatic manifestation of human curiosity in action: the child will throw the toy to the ground to break it up into pieces... he or she wants to see what it is made of and smashing it is a very efficient way to achieve this. As physicists, we never outgrow this instinct. When we want to find out what stuff is made of, be they atoms, or even smaller consitutents like protons and neutrons, we just smash them together! The harder we throw subatomic particles towards each other, more of the inner microscopic workings we uncover. This is the basic principle behind multi-billion dollor particle accelerators. They are basically giants microscopes that can "see" inside subatomic particles by throwing them at each other at immense speeds; and watching what comes out... These are nothing less than the most sophisticated machines that humans are able to build to date. The most recent one is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which started its operation just months ago and will go in full operational swing within a year or so. It will try to duplicate - within a small area - the conditions that our universe experienced moments after the Big Bang. It does this by smashing protons onto each other at high speeds in an underground tunnel envelopped by superconducting magnets. What it can potentially discover can change the world as we know it, much like the particle accelerators did 50 years ago. Before I write about the physics that one can expect from all this, check out this great video overview of this amazing instrument...

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