CERN marks advance in universe mysteries search

Last Updated: Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 13:56

Geneva: Scientists at the CERN physics research center reported on Friday that they had smashed particles together at a record intensity in a key advance in their program to unveil mysteries of the universe.

The development came in the early hours after they fed beams into the giant Large Hadron Collider (LHC) with some 6 per cent more particles per unit than the previous record, set by the U.S. Fermilab`s Tevatron collider last year.

Each collision in the LHC`s 27-kilometre (16.8 mile) circular underground tunnel -- at a tiny fraction under the speed of light -- creates a simulation of the Big Bang which brought the universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago.

The higher the "beam intensity" or number of particles in each beam, the more collisions take place and the more material the scientists have to analyze. Many millions of these mini-Big Bangs are already being produced daily.

"Beam intensity is the key to the success of the LHC, so this is a very important step," said Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN -- the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the Swiss-French border near Geneva.

"Higher intensity means more data, and more data means greater discovery potential."

"There is a tangible feeling that we are on the threshold of new discovery," said his deputy, Sergio Bertolucci, CERN`s research director.


As the CERN physicists and engineers ramped up the intensity over the past week, said CERN spokesman James Gillies, they gathered more information -- stored in thousands of computer discs -- than in nine months of LHC running in 2010.

The $10 billion machine, the world`s biggest single scientific experiment, started up at the end of March 2010. After this year, following the Tevatron`s permanent closedown in the autumn, it will be the world`s lone super-collider.

Among the LHC`s aims is to establish whether an elementary particle, dubbed the Higgs after the British scientist who first suggested it as the agent that gave mass to particles after the Big Bang, actually exists.

By observing the collisions on computers at CERN and in linked laboratories around the world, scientists also hope to find solid proof of the existence of the dark matter believed to make up nearly a quarter of the known universe, and perhaps the dark energy thought to constitute around 70 per cent.

Cosmologists say the CERN experiments may also shed light on emerging new theories suggesting the known universe is only part of a system of many, invisible to each other and with no means of inter-communication, that has been dubbed the "multiverse."

They also look to the LHC, to remain in operation for a decade after a year-long technical shutdown in 2013, to produce some back-up to indications tracked by other researchers that the known universe was preceded by another before the Big Bang.

After the 2013 shutdown, CERN scientists aim to increase the total energy of each particle collision from a current maximum of 7 Tera electron-volts, or TeV, to 14 TeV.

This will also increase the likelihood of new discoveries in what CERN calls "New Physics," taking knowledge beyond the so-called Standard Model based on the theories of Swiss scientist Albert Einstein early in the 20th century.

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First Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 13:56

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