Ten minutes before the scheduled time of 12.30 pm, when a bunch of particles failed to collide in the world’s largest atom smasher in Geneva, city physicist Gobinda Majumdar thought the machine would not restart.
Four hours later, when particle beams finally collided at 4.30 pm across four points in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at energies never achieved before, Majumdar was relieved that his 18-year wait for the experiment to begin was over.
The machine, located 100 m underground in the Swiss-Franco border, attempts to reproduce the energies that existed soon after the Big Bang that is said to have given birth to our universe.
“I am excited. This is a historic moment,” said Majumdar at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Colaba. “From my student days, I’ve been waiting for the beams to collide and get real data from the experiment for analysis. It was to begin in 2007, then got pushed to 2008. Today, it finally happened.”
On Tuesday, Majumdar and other TIFR physicists, whose careers are entwined with the findings of the Big Bang machine, monitored minute-to-minute developments in the world’s most expensive science experiment through a live webcast from the European Centre for Nuclear Organisation (CERN) where the machine is housed.
Besides building components and developing software for the machine, TIFR is the nodal agency in India for one of the four experiments. The computer centre at the institute will reconstruct data, analyse it and send it to other Indian institutes and universities who are part of the experiment.
With the machine slated to run at a high energy of 7 TeV for 18-24 months, the institute’s scientists and PhD students will also take turns to go to CERN to work on the experiment.
“We are the nerve centre for the Indian group. Data has started coming in from the time the particle collisions began today,” said physicist Atul Gurtu, India spokesperson for the experiment.
“It’s a great moment,” said physicist Sudeshna Banerjee. “Being so far way, I was wondering if I would feel the same excitement as those in CERN. And I did”.
Banerjee will concentrate on how the detectors are performing and study the particle collisions. “We will look for
the hypothesised particles (Higgs Boson and Super Symmetry). If rare particles are found, the existing theories will change.”