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GENEVA 10th September ’08– Deep beneath the Swiss-French border near Geneva, thousands of physicists are building the world’s largest and most expensive science experiment — a particle collider that they hope will bring them one step closer toward unlocking some of the universe’s oldest secrets.
Big Bang experiment:A CERN initiative
The Swiss laboratory CERN, where scientists launched the experiment to re-enact the ‘Big Bang’
The world’s largest particle collider successfully completed its first major test by firing a beam of protons all the way around a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel on Wednesday in what scientists hope is the next great step to understanding the makeup of the universe.
After a series of trial runs, two white dots flashed on a computer screen at 10:36 am (0836 GMT) indicating that the protons had travelled the full length of the US$3.8 billion Large Hadron Collider.
A technician working in a computing centre of the CERN.
”There it is,” project leader Lyn Evans said when the beam completed its lap.
Champagne corks popped in labs as far away as Chicago, where contributing scientists watched the proceedings by satellite. Physicists around the world now have much greater power than ever before to smash the components of atoms together in attempts to see how they are made.
“Well done everybody,” said Robert Aymar, Director-General of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, to cheers from the assembled scientists in the collider’s control room at the Swiss-French border.
People work at the CERN Control Centre. The purpose of the CERN Control Centre is to combine the control rooms of the laboratory’s eight accelerators, as well as the piloting of cryogenics and technical infrastructures
The organisation, known by its French acronym CERN, began firing the protons – a type of subatomic particle – around the tunnel in stages less than an hour earlier.
Now that the beam has been successfully tested in clockwise direction, CERN plans to send it counter-clockwise. Eventually, two beams will be fired in opposite directions with the aim of recreating conditions a split second after the big bang, which scientists theorize was the massive explosion that created the universe.
The start of the collider – described as the biggest physics experiment in history – comes over the objections of some skeptics who fear the collision of protons could eventually imperil the earth.
A view into the Grid PC farm at the CERN Computer Centre, where banks of computers process and store data. When the operation starts, it will produce enough data every year to fill a stack of CDs 20 km tall. To handle this huge amount of data, CERN has also developed the Grid, allowing processing power to be shared between computer centres around the world.
The skeptics theorised that a by-product of the collisions could be micro black holes, subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can **** in planets and other stars.
“It’s nonsense,” said James Gillies, chief spokesman for CERN, before Wednesday’s start.
CERN is backed by leading scientists like Britain’s Stephen Hawking in dismissing the fears and declaring the experiments to be absolutely safe.
A view of the island Super Proton Synchrotron of the CERN Control Centre in Prevessin, France where the operators prepare commissioning of the Large Hadron Collider
Gillies said the most dangerous thing that could happen would be if a beam at full power were to go out of control and that would only damage the accelerator and burrow into the rock around the tunnel.
Nothing of the sort occurred on Wednesday, though accelerator is still probably a year away from full power.
The particle collider in a tunnel at CERN, near Geneva.
On Wednesday, we start small,” said Gillies. “A really good result would be to have the other beam going around, too, because once you’ve got a beam around once in both directions you know that there is no show-stopper.”
The project organised by the 20 European member nations of CERN has attracted researchers from 80 nations. Some 1,200 are from the United States, an observer country which contributed US$531 million. Japan, another observer, also is a major contributor.
A Sub-Terrain Ring Path Outlined !
‘Big Bang’ day for 30 Indian scientists
When, on Wednesday, at 12.30 pm IST, a group of physicists turn on a machine that will recreate the birth of the universe, the Raniwala couple from Jaipur will be watching the experiment very closely. After all, this will be the largest experiment in human history. And Sudhir Raniwala and Rashmi Raniwala, associate professors of physics at Rajasthan University, are among the 30-odd physicists from India, who are part of this experiment.
At the heart of this is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which was constructed at a cost of $4.4 billion. It is the latest in a series of successively more powerful particle accelerators that have been built at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory in Geneva.
Within the LHC’s circular tunnel, 27 km in circumference, beams of protons will be accelerated to up to 99.999999% of the speed of light. When they smash together, they will generate concentrations of energy resembling those that occurred during the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
“We have designed the Photon Multiplicity Detector (PMD), which has been fitted in the LHC, in which small particles (protons) will be accelerated and made to collide at the highest-ever man-made speed,” Raniwala told TOI on Monday. He said the PMD, designed by him and other Indians, is part of the ALICE project in the LHC, under which experts will try to generate quark-gluon plasma matter, which was present at the time of the creation of the universe.
To give you an idea, everything that you see around you, including yourself, can be reduced to atoms. Now, atoms can be further broken up into neutrons, protons and electrons. Neutrons and protons together form the nucleus of an atom. But what makes up neutrons and protons? That’s where quarks come into the picture. These are subatomic particles held together by gluons and form the nucleus of an atom.
In nature, quarks are always found bound together in groups, and never in isolation, because of a phenomenon known as confinement. These groups of quarks are called hadrons. (That’s where the collider gets its name from.) Now, when beams of protons smash together at almost the speed of light there will be such a high concentration of energy that a form of matter called quark-gluon plasma will be created. In this phase, for a brief period of time, a large number of free quarks and gluons can exist. That was how things were just after the Big Bang.
The Photon Multiplicity Detector (PMD) will play a key role in this experiment. The PMD was developed at the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre in Kolkata, which is a body of the Department of Atomic Energy, and the machines were transported to Geneva from February this year. The machines sent from Kolkata were fitted in the LHC by June. Raniwala said experts from IIT-Mumbai, Panjab University, Jammu University, Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and Rajasthan University worked together to develop the PMD.
Raniwala, who has been associated with the project since its letter of intent was submitted in 1992, will be going to Geneva on September 21 to study the after-effects of the collisions. “The idea is to study whether the lab can create what happened at the time of the creation of the universe.” The Indian physicists will be connected with the LHC experiment through GRID computing system, which has been installed at the RU physics laboratory also. “There will be $600 million collisions every second and every collision will emit two-lakh small signals. We will study these signals, clean the data and analyse them,” Raniwala said.
Allaying fears about the high-speed collisions in the tunnel, Raniwala said, “Cosmic rays in the universe send particles with much greater energies than those being achieved in the lab, so there’s nothing to worry about.” He said that even the CERN director-general had assessed the safety issues and nothing was found to be unsafe. “The internal safety assessment report concluded that there is no basis for any concern, which was also endorsed by the 20 independent experts from the Science Policy Committee,” he added.
The giant new particle collider is being linked to spectacular spin offs, including improved cancer treatments, systems for destroying nuclear waste and insights into climate change.
Stunning Images Of The Large Hadron Collider