Objects too small to be seen with the naked eye can be observed with a light microscope, magnified and clear. However, things too small to be seen under a regular microscope can be viewed under an electron microscope. While huge electron microscopes can be used to observe objects as small as individual atoms in specific conditions, subatomic particles are far too tiny to be observed even under the largest electron microscopes. So instead of observing these particles directly, they are produced in controlled conditions with the help of collisions and their nature is revealed by clues left in their trails.
A controlled environment, in this case, would be a particle accelerator. These enormous inventions have helped us gain a deeper understanding of fundamental particles and forces in our universe.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest and most powerful collider (particle accelerator) in the world, as well as the most complex experimental facility ever constructed. Built by European Organization for Nuclear Research — also known as CERN — the LHC first went live on September 10, 2008. It is still CERN’s latest inclusion to its accelerator complex.
Here in this gallery, we explore more interesting facts about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
How many people are involved with LHC? Well, about ten thousand engineers and scientists coming from 60 countries across the globe. As of this writing, out of the ten thousand workers, 3000 are particle physicists.
The LHC is home to 9300 powerful superconducting magnets. These superconducting magnets are arranged in the form of a 27-kilometer-long ring. There are two different types of these superconducting magnets: Dipole magnets (magnets with two opposite poles) and quadrupole magnets (magnets with four opposite poles). There are 1232 dipole magnets and 392 quadrupole magnets used in its construction. They are set to extremely low temperatures — in fact, even more, freezing than the deep space — thanks to 10,080 tons of liquid nitrogen. The heat released because of collisions heats up the electromagnetics which are then brought down to -271.3 degrees Celsius by using liquid helium.
Supersymmetry and the mystery of the anti-matter
LHC has conducted a couple of studies. One is called supersymmetry, the concept that there are more particles that exist beyond the number of particles found on the Standard Model. Evidence for this theory could help us unify all the fundamental forces in nature.
Another is the enigma surrounds the anti-matter, particularly on why the anti-matter is quite rare compared to matter. When the big bang occurred, in theory, there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter produced. Instead, we somehow ended up with much more matter than anti-matter. Supersymmetry could provide the answers as to why visible matter takes up only 4% of the universe, while dark matter and dark energy account for a combined 96% of it.
The inside of the accelerator
It consists of an extremely vast vacuum — so empty that it is likened to interplanetary space. This is designed to prevent protons from colliding with gas molecules. These protons are accelerated to 99.99 percent the speed of light in the 27-kilometer-long ring before their collision with each other.
According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, at velocities approaching that of light, time slows down for the observer who is stationary relative to the one in motion. Close to the speed of light, this effect is significant enough to be noticeable. This phenomenon is known as “time dilation.” The protons moving close to the speed of light, undergo time dilation. To an outside observer, two hours would have passed for each second of the proton.
The most powerful supercomputer
It’s not surprising then that LHC has built a supercomputer that is the most powerful in the world. The name is “The Grid” which is built from several thousands of computers from many parts around the planet. It employs fiber optic cable and high-speed consumer internet for transferring data across its vast network. If the LHC is going to release a recorded data of each of their big researches and experiments, it would have to be released on 100,000 dual-layer DVDs per year.
The raw data from collisions amounts to an overwhelming 25 petabytes a year, which is stored in a computer grid consisting of 170 facilities spread across 36 countries, making it the largest computer networking grid in the world.
What does the LHC beam?
The LHC beams hydrogen protons and ions in opposite directions, traveling at an astounding 99.9999991% of the speed of light. This speed is equivalent to 11,245 laps every second or 671,000,000 miles per hour. Although, LHC mainly runs proton-proton collisions, once a year they run heavy ion collisions such as lead ions. The purpose of ion-based collisions is to understand the nature of quark-gluon plasma—a quark soup which existed in the early universe.
What does the LHC consist of?
The LHC is a vast network of underground tunnels on the French-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. It’s designed in the shape of a circle, which is 50-175 m deep underground. Buildings on the surface house equipment for ventilation and refrigeration, control units and compressors. A French electrical grid supplies 200MW of power needed for LHC to operate. It consists of four huge labs interspersed around a circular tunnel which measures 27 kilometers (or 17 miles) in circumference. The total energy stored in its magnets amounts to 10 gigajoules, which is the equivalent of 2400 kilograms of TNT.
The LHC has collisions which occur every second. Two beams travel in two separate tubes in which a vacuum is maintained. These tubes are called beam pipes and electromagnets are used to direct beams into the ring and made to collide in opposite directions. These electromagnets are superconductors – they’re kept so cold, that their resistance to current becomes virtually zero. They emit temperatures that reach over 100,000 times much hotter than the Sun’s. These high temperatures are absorbed using the network of liquid helium described above.
How much did it cost to build the LHC?
The LHC was completed in 2008. It cost about 6.03 billion Swiss francs — or in today’s money, that’s 5 billion euros, 6.2 billion British pounds, or US$6.27 billion. Its total annual operating cost amounts to 5.5 billion US, which includes the cost of electricity, computing, and experimentation for accelerator and detectors. This funding is provided by the governments of Germany, the UK, France, and Italy. Some universities also donate funds for experimentation. Other governments that occasionally contribute towards the funding include India, USA, and Russia.