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Cern opens up the world of physics
A rekindling of interest in science could be the Large Hadron Collider's greatest legacy.
Last Modified: 30 Mar 2010 20:30 GMT
A monitor showing the first ultra high-energy collisions at Cern's experiment control room [AFP]

Scientists at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (Cern) hope a major breakthrough achieved on Tuesday will help lead to a new form of physics.

The Large Hadron Collider, located near Geneva, has created history by smashing together particles at the highest energy reading ever recreated in a laboratory.

Scientists at Cern have started colliding sub-atomic particles at extremely high speeds, potentially heralding a new era for physics by unlocking some of the universe's most closely guarded secrets.

Beyond the science though, something else is arguably at stake.

The work going on at Cern taps into the deepest of questions regarding our place in the universe and what makes us human.

Questions that have been asked for millennia "Who are we?" and "Where did we come from?" are a step closer to being answered.

And that is why what is going on 100km under the ground on the border between Switzerland and France is of such importance.

'God particle' 

The "celebrity" in the experiment is a sub-atomic particle known as the Higgs-Boson.

Dubbed the "God particle" by the media (much to the annoyance of some scientists) it's integral to the standard model of particle physics, and has long been theorized as being responsible for giving mass to other elementary particles.

Scientists have described its possible discovery as "opening up a new world" allowing them to find new types of matter.

This in turn may have a bearing on our understanding of how the (known) universe operates.

We currently appreciate it as functioning in three main dimensions (plus time).

The discovery of new particles by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could hint at tiny new dimensions, beyond those that are visible to us, and the ramifications of this would radically alter our concept of the universe.

Ideas such as finding new dimensions may seem like they should be confined to an episode of Star Trek, but many are firmly ensconced in mainstream thinking and published by some of the world's most eminent physicists.

In short, it is mainstream scientific theory, taking in seminal works by the likes of Einstein, Schrödinger and Heisenberg.

Popular science

Professor Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology once argued that some cutting edge science is "as controversial as it is popular".

Perhaps the experiments being done at Cern can go some way in taking some of physic's most contentious subjects and rooting them firmly in reality.

Most scientists, however, insist that what they are really doing at Cern is mapping the unknown and that the real discoveries will come from the unpredicted.

In short, surprises that will stun the world of physics.

For sometime, an idea often repeated in the mass media, was that miniature black holes could be created by the LHC.

If such a Black Hole was created it would immediately decay via Hawking radiation and is thus unlikely to pose any tangible threat.

Perhaps a real danger however is being left in a black hole of our own, dismissing important scientific ideas as science fiction.

If Cern can rekindle an interest in science and provoke debate about the universe then surely that will be its greatest achievement.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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