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Santhosh Mathew, PhD

Santhosh Mathew, PhD

Posted: March 31, 2010 11:16 AM

No other experiment in the human history has captured the imagination of scientists and common folks alike the way the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has done.

The gigantic collider underneath the Alps, just outside Geneva, has finally accomplished the land mark collision of proton beams. On Tuesday, the LHC has successfully smashed the proton beams at 7 Tev (Tera electron volt). Scientists described the event as " a new era in science."

Scientists hope that the collisions will allow them to answer questions such as super symmetry, hidden dimensions, and the existence of Higgs Boson-sounds amusing. How do we make sense of these?

The standard model of particle theory postulates that everything is made up of fundamental particles called fermions (like electrons -the basic unit of charge) and bosons (like photons-the basic unit of light). No one disagrees with this theory. In fact, we manipulate these particles in such a way that they have been employed to control anything from electronic circuits to solar cells.

However, there is a missing particle in the standard model-Higgs Boson; some love to call it "God's particle." The theory claims that Higgs Bosons are responsible for providing the mass to everything in the universe. Some particles are massive while others have negligible mass, but the mass providing Higgs Bosons eluded us forever.

The high energy collisions may create Higgs Bosons, though it will last only for a split second before decaying into other particles. Nevertheless, they can be traced back from the trails of their remnants. The detection of Higgs Boson will explain the origin of mass in the universe, an incomplete chapter in the field of particle physics thus far.

Haunted by mechanical problems and dooms day prophecies, LHC has struggled since its first major operation in 2008. Apparently, some scientists even suggested that 'Higgs Boson doesn't want to be found' by the feeble humans. The God's particle would actually be aware enough to go back in time and prevent its own creation!

Holger Bech Nielsen, a Danish theoretical physicist, and Masao Ninomiya, a Japanese physicist, suggested that the Higgs Boson, the particle that physicists hope to create with the collider, might be "abhorrent to nature." Their published work proposed that the influence from the future would bring bad luck for the LHC. It seems that even the professional scientists are not free from spooky speculations.

The researchers are relying on LHC for another reason as well-super symmetry (SUSY). The detectors in the experiment will look for super symmetric particles. Super symmetry hypothesizes that for every standard model particle there is a corresponding super symmetric particle. Thus the electron will have a super symmetric partner called a "selectron'', with a different spin.

If these "sparticles" exist as predicted by theory, the LHC will provide us with an opportunity to see them for the first time. While the ordinary particles will be delighted to see their super partners, researchers will attempt to answer the dark matter mystery.

Super symmetric particles are leading candidates for demystifying dark matter, the exotic matter that makes up roughly 25% of the universe. The ordinary matter that creates the galaxies, stars, planets, and different forms of life is only a tiny fraction of the universe, estimated to be about 4%.The presence of dark matter is inferred only through its gravitational effect as they don't emit any electromagnetic radiation like ordinary matter.

The first attempt to link the LHC with disaster was that it might trigger a black hole that will swallow our planet. That fear even sparked a lawsuit in a US court only to be dismissed later. Scientists explain that fears such as these are unjustified. In fact, cosmic ray collisions that occur in the upper atmosphere of our planet have been known to occur at high energies and are well tolerated by our planet for the last 4.5 billion years.

Now, if a micro black hole is produced, which is highly unlikely, it would be a fascinating opportunity for researchers to study them. These micro black holes will decay quickly without any harm. But the alarmists are not ready to accept that verdict. Death by black hole is unacceptable to them, for they prefer to choose their own mode of death.

Perhaps the most exotic discovery from this experiment would be the extra dimensions. Our world of three spatial dimensions and one dimension of time is not adequate enough to accommodate many observed effects. String theorists are betting that the universe must unfold around ten or eleven dimensions. Unfortunately, they are unable to provide any clarity about the nature of these dimensions.

Attaining energy levels that no other collision ever achieved has the potential to open doors to other dimensions. This may explain why gravity is weak in our universe as compared to other forces; gravity might be operating in other extra dimensions. Interestingly, scientists have learned to live with extra dimensions and parallel universes. As such, we might be the inhabitants of a 3D blob, one of the innumerable multiverses.

The LHC will run for the next 18 to 24 months giving the detectors ample data to analyze. This would take months or even years with all of the latest computing techniques. Until then, no one will know the new vistas generated in the particle kingdom. After this period, the LHC will shut down for up to a year to gear up for further collisions with more energy.

The collisions of the particles in the LHC are truly the minuscule replication of the events that unfolded in the early universe about 13.7 billion years ago, immediately following Big Bang. The LHC is recreating those events in a unique way. It is unique because every story has a beginning but the LHC is trying to tell us the story of the beginning.