Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Big Bang: the world's biggest experiment starts

Big Bang: the world's biggest experiment starts

IANS 10 Sep 2008 02:35:00 PM ISTGENEVA: The world's most ambitious yet historic scientific project, undertaken by CERN, is about to fathom the mysteries of creation, besides finding extremely elusive 'Godlike' particles known as the Higgs boson.

The $10-billion Geneva based CERN project, an acronym for European Organisation for Nuclear Research, involves over 8,000 scientists from 85 countries, including 200 from India, which has contributed $41 million worth of resources and precision equipment.

The Higgs boson particle is perhaps the most sought-after prize of the project. The standard model of particle physics theorises that it gives mass to other particles.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, lies at the heart of the experiment, that started Wednesday in a circular tunnel 27 km long around the collider, some 35 floors below the surface of the earth.

Scientists controlling the experiment started it by sending the first proton beam zipping through the LHC's 27-km circular tunnel. The collider will accelerate the protons to nearly the speed of light and crash them together, a process that will take four to eight weeks. Scientists anticipate the first collisions between Oct 8 and Nov 5.

Protons, along with neutrons, form the nucleus of every atom.

Detectors will collect data about the paths, energies and identities of the particles that fly from the collisions.

The LHC is anchored on Indian made jacks, weighing 32 tonnes each, which have to be located with extreme precision. Sukalyan Chattopadhyay of Saha Institute Of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata said that one of the detectors, part of the di-muon spectrometer of the project, was made entirely in India.

The chips used in the detectors are called MANAS chips. They are being utilised not only by the scientists from India but also from France, Germany, Italy and Russia, Chattopadhyay said.

India has presented CERN with a huge bronze statue of Nataraja, Lord Shiva performing his dance of creation and destruction.

The world's largest collider will recreate conditions of the earliest universe. It will tear apart particles so physicists can study their components and observe as the particles put themselves back together, said Homer Neal, University of Michigan's institutional representative for the ATLAS Experiment at the LHC.

"Many of us who have been eager to search for the Higgs boson and to explore other particles have been waiting not just during the period we've been working on the CERN LHC, but even before," Neal said.

Researchers hope the experiments answer some basic questions about how the universe works: How do the particles that make up atoms acquire mass? What happened to antimatter? What was it like just after the Big Bang and so on.

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