Quarks. Gluons. Anti-quarks. It can get mind boggling thinking about all the physics that takes place in the large hadron collider in Geneva, Switzerland, also known as CERN, with scientists studying the smallest known particles that they hope will "revolutionize our understanding" of the world.
What better way to learn how the world's largest and most expensive ($9.5 billion) science experiment works than in a slightly more than two minute video from Scientific American? Check it out:
It all starts with the subatomic particle, a proton from hydrogen gas. This proton is sent into the collider through a linear accelerator, which goes through a few circular rings and "fed" into the large collider ring, along with other protons. When scientists flip a switch to cause protons to reverse direction, occasionally, collisions occur. A few subsequent collisions of other particles that result from the proton smash -- gluons and quarks -- occur and physicists try to reconstruct actual events that happened.
These collisions are what interest scientists. Through the large hadron collider, scientists hope to better understand some laws of nature and have long been on the hunt for the theoretical "God particle", or the Higgs boson.
As the video explains, the collider is not even at full power yet. It is expected to reach full power in 2014, at which point it will go from 3.5 trillion electron volts (eV) to 7 trillion eV.
Here's more from CERN's website of how the accelerator works:
Two beams of subatomic particles called "hadrons" – either protons or lead ions – travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world then analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.
Other specs from the website include:
- The collider is the largest machine in the world: It is more than 17 miles in circumference.
- It is the "fastest racetrack" in the world: The particles zooming around this circle go 99.9999991 percent the speed of light.
- It is one of the hottest spots in the solar system, but still colder than space: When ions collide they generate temperatures hotter than the sun, but "superfluid helium" keeps things cool.
- The system's sensors are so sophisticated they can measure time to the few billionths of a second and location to the millionths of a meter.
The machine only became operational a few years ago with the first protons taking a turn through the collider in 2008.