Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Flying at the speed of sound"*

Today we celebrate! Scientists at the underground site of the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss-French border cheered earlier today when the largest atom collider set a record by colliding particles three times faster than ever before. (This occasion was also worthy of celebrating because a. the collider didn't break and b. it didn't create a world-destroying black hole!)

For those of you who follow my blog (all three of you!), you may remember that I've been keeping my eye on this experiment. Crashing together subatomic particles is risky business and the project has been plagued with controversy since it started, including an accidental death, mechanical problems, and even a theory that scientists from the future are sabotaging the collider. But with today's success we can look to the future.

An energy level of 7 trillion electron volts (TeV) was observed during the event. This seems like a big number, but when you consider that an ant can easily produce as much kinetic energy as 1 TeV, it's actually a small amount of energy. So what's the big deal, right? The big deal is that the particles in the collider are infinitesimally smaller than an ant, so when 7 TeV is applied to colliding particles (3.5 TeV per particle), they move almost as fast as the speed of light (note: not the speed of sound as the lyric in the title states!).

Scientists hope to eventually discover more about dark matter and the Higgs boson (or God Particle). If experiments go as planned (which they haven't so far...and they almost never do), this collider could smash open (literally) new discoveries in the world of physics. Ah, what great material for science-fiction writers everywhere!