The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is not just the world’s largest particle accelerator. (If you don’t know what that means I’ll explain later.) It’s also the largest machine on the planet. The ring is an impressive 27km in diameter and the machine has revolutionised particle physics.
What the LHC and other machines like it, do is to take subatomic particles. (That is particles that are smaller than atoms, the bits that make up atoms such as protons and electrons) And speeds them up to close to the speed of light and then they collide into one another.
This process has found particles that until recently only existed in theory and has also discovered particles that we didn’t have a clue existed. On top of that, it has the potential to do all kinds of stuff. Like creating microscopic black holes which some people believe may be the key to unlocking other dimensions. But that is all very theoretical at the moment.
How they work
Particle accelerators use the collisions between these tiny particles in order to see what makes them. Do you remember being at school and trying to comprehend how those tiny cells that make up your body are made up by even smaller atoms? And then finding out that they were made up of even smaller particles like protons and electrons? Well, without particle accelerators we might have never known about the stuff that makes up the nucleus of an atom. In fact, the name atom basically means “not divisible” so scientists at one point believed that atoms were the smallest particles.
particle accelerators look at stuff even smaller than protons and electrons now. Stuff like quarks. Obviously, as time has passed our technology has improved and as a consequence, these accelerators have grown in size. Apparently when it comes to hadron colliders bigger is better!
But why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple really. The more space that the particles have to travel, the faster they can go. The more speed they have when they collide, the more we can discover.
Although the tech has developed they still actually work in a similar way to their predecessors. Magnets create electromagnetic fields which propel the particles at super speeds.
Obviously, these particles don’t travel in isolation. They don’t just send two particles on a 27km round trip! Instead, particle beams travel around to gather speed before colliding. As I said before these powerful magnetic fields can cause these beams to travel at close to the speed of light.
One of the ways that the LHC is able to detect events is by measuring photons. What is a photon you ask? Well, basically it is one of the aforementioned elementary particles, consisting of light. The reason these are used is that they are easy to detect.
One of the LHC’s most famous discoveries has been the Higgs Boson particle. It is the particle that scientists hoped to find and find it they did. It helped scientists prove a scientific theory called the Standard Model of particle physics.
A scientist named Peter Higgs had predicted the existence of the particle some 50 years ago. It is the particle which is thought to give all other particles their mass.
The discoveries haven’t ceased since then five brand new particles were recently discovered. These are all example of Baryons, baryons are made up of quarks.
The standard model basically says that everything is made up of basic building blocks. These are called the fundamental particles. Their actions are dictated by 4 forces: gravity, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear.