Here is a snapshot of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), leading the quest to identify a sub-atomic particle known as the Higgs boson, which is believed to confer mass:
- The LHC comprises four huge labs interspersed around a ring-shaped tunnel near Geneva, 27 kilometres (16.9 miles) long and up to 175 metres (568 feet) below ground.
- Beams of hydrogen protons are accelerated in opposite directions to more than 99.9999% of the speed of light. Powerful superconducting magnets, chilled to a temperature colder than deep space, then "bend" the beams so that streams of particles collide within four large chambers.
- The smashups fleetingly generate temperatures 100,000 hotter than the Sun, replicating the conditions that prevailed just after the "Big Bang" that created the Universe 13.7 billion years ago.
- Swathing the chambers are detectors that give a 3-D image of the traces of sub-atomic particles hurled out from the protons' destruction. These traces are then closely analysed in the search for movements, properties or novel particles that could advance our understanding of matter.
- In top gear, the LHC is designed to generate nearly a billion collisions per second. Above ground, a farm of 3,000 computers, one of the largest in the world, instantly crunches the number down to about 100 collisions that are of the most interest.
- Peak LHC collisions generate 14 teraelectron volts (TeV), amounting to a high concentration of energy but only at an extraordinarily tiny scale. One TeV is the equivalent energy of motion of a flying mosquito. There is no safety risk, says Cern (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research).
- Other LHC investigations include supersymmetry -- the idea that more massive particles exist beyond those in the Standard Model -- and the mystery why anti-matter is so rare compared to matter, its counterpart. Supersymmetry could explain why visible matter only accounts for some four% of the cosmos. Dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%) account for the rest.
- Completed in 2008, the LHC cost 6.03 billion Swiss francs (five billion euros, $6.27 billion dollars, at today's rates of conversion).