What are They Doing at CERN?

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Inside CERN

This was a short piece written for a magazine in 2015. The goal was delivering scientific topics in a light and entertaining fashion...

News about the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) seems to come sparsely and when it does, most of us don’t really understand what they’re doing there. They might as well be throwing raisins in it. This can lead to many of us thinking of it as perhaps a colossal waste of money and resources.

Is it a waste of money though? They’ve recently undergone a $149 million upgrade so it can run at double its previous capacity and the whole thing has cost around £3.74 billion overall. The amount of money the UK paid towards the budget for CERN was third highest at £107 million in 2014.

That might seem like a mind-boggling sum of money, but this recent upgrade will allow them to smash protons together harder than ever. Sure, that might sound ridiculous, but this could help reveal some truth on the mysteries of physics, like dark matter, and will possibly help towards unifying Einstein’s general relativity with the current “Standard Model” of Physics.

The Standard Model currently has several unexplained phenomena including gravity, dark matter, dark energy, neutrino masses, and matter-antimatter symmetry. Yes, you read that correctly – science can’t even explain gravity.

The matter-antimatter symmetry problem states that there was originally an equal amount of anti-matter as there is matter. If that’s the case then where has all the antimatter gone? “God was starving one day and ate it all” just isn’t a good enough answer anymore. Scientists have found there is much more matter than there is antimatter from observations, implying that something must have happened to significantly tip the balance.

The next, full-power operation is scheduled to begin in June and it will be their most ambitious project to date with the Collider running at nearly double capacity. There are high hopes that this increase in power will allow CERN to give us further important information about the workings of the universe.

So far, the project has proven successful, when in 2012 they found a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson, also known as “The God Particle” in the media. All observed properties of the Higgs Boson were found to be consistent with what was predicted in The Standard Model.

In this second run they will look further into the properties of the Higgs Boson and thanks to the increase in power to 13 TeV, scientists will now be able to inquire further than they ever have into the fundamental structure of matter. It could soon be revealed that there are a whole set of exotic particles that exist, which can only be discovered through interaction with the Higgs.

The discovery of such exotic particles could in part, confirm the existence of alternate dimensions, as some of these particles may only be able to exist if other dimensions are real. If that’s the case, they would appear as heavier versions of particles seen in The Standard Model. That would be pretty mind-blowing stuff, right? Alternate dimensions have often been a topic of fascination, inspiring sci-fi books and flicks for generations. It could turn out that such mysterious concepts are real.

It could end up proving the theory of “rainbow gravity”, which suggests gravity in fact pulls certain wavelengths of light more than others. This opposes our best current explanation for gravity – the theory of general relativity. These are all things that need to be de-bugged for Physics to be able to tackle the bigger questions.

To many people who just want to live a simple life this might all seem meaningless, but it’s far from it. The truth is important, the fact that we still don’t even understand what constitutes a huge portion of the universe, and that there are many conflicting and incomplete theories, should be a strong indication that the LHC is a necessity in furthering our understanding of the universe.

Without the LHC, physicists would be left stuck with incomplete theories and there wouldn’t really be any progress made on the most pressing questions in science. A world where nobody was actively working on the bigger questions, fixing the holes in science and inspiring young minds to use their brains would be a world that has given up on progress.

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