September 8, 2008

Scientists Hope For Big Surprises From Collider

Scientists are looking to this week's historic "Big Bang" experiment in hopes that it will reveal surprises about the universe and its origins"”but reject suggestions it will bring the end of the world.

The discoveries to emerge from the 6.4 billion euro ($9.2 billion) project could spark major advances for human society, Robert Aymar, the French physicist who heads the CERN research centre, predicted.

British physicist Brian Cox said:  "If some of what we expect to find does not turn up, and things we did not foresee do, that will be even more stimulating because it means that we understand less than we thought about nature."

Gerardus t'Hooft of the University of Michigan is looking forward to the unexpected. "Perhaps, he suggested, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) machine at the heart of the experiment "will show us things we didn't know existed."

Scientists plan to smash particle beams together at close to the speed of light inside CERN's tightly sealed Large Hadron Collider to create multiple mini-versions of the primeval Big Bang.

The explosion of an object the size of a small coin occurred about 13.7 billion years ago and led to formation of stars, planets -- and eventually to life on earth, Cosmologists said.

A key aim of the CERN experiment is to find the "Higgs boson," named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs who in 1964 pointed to such a particle as the force that gave mass to matter and made the universe possible.

The focus of experiments in the 27-km (17-mile) circular tunnel deep underneath the Swiss-French border also includes other mysteries of physics and cosmology such as supersymmetry, dark matter and dark energy among them.

Key researchers and many ordinary staff have been inundated by e-mails voicing fears about the experiment, according to CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research.

Such claims include the creation of "black holes" of intensive gravity capable of sucking in CERN, Europe and perhaps the whole planet.  Others fear that it will open the way for beings from another universe to invade through a "worm hole" in space-time.

However, a safety review issued at the weekend by scientists at CERN and in the United States and Russia rejected the prospect of such outcomes.

"The LHC will enable us to study in detail what nature is doing all around us," Aymar, who has led CERN for five years, said in response to that review. "The LHC is safe, and any suggestion that it might present a risk is pure fiction."

"I am immensely irritated by the conspiracy theorists who spread this nonsense around," said Cox, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Britain's Manchester University.

A particle beam will be shot all the way around the LHC channel in just one direction for the first test. If all goes well, collisions might be tried within the coming weeks, but at low intensity. Any bangs at this stage, said one CERN researcher, "will be little ones."

The experiment begins on September 10 soon after 9 a.m. (0700 GMT).

Photo Credit: Peter Ginter / CERN


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