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Mini Big Bang Awaits For LHC’s ALICE Experiment

November 4, 2010

Researchers working at the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator on the Franco-Swiss border are nearly set to create the Big Bang on a miniature scale.

Since 2009, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been smashing protons together, trying to shed light on the essential nature of matter.

But for the upcoming experiments, planned for early November and running for four weeks, the team will have the accelerator collide lead ions instead.

The collider, managed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), consists of four different experiments and one of them, ALICE, has been designed to smash lead ions together.

The goal of the collisions will be to investigate what the Universe looked like at the time of the Big Bang.

Spokesman for CERN, James Gillies told BBC News that besides ALICE, researchers will also be incorporating ATLAS and Compact Muon Solenoid experiments to also collide ions.

Gillies said the test could provide valuable insights into the conditions of the Universe 13.7 billion years ago. The tests will help researchers replicate the conditions that existed fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

Scientists believe that a very special state matter existed way back then, different from the matter that exists within the Universe now.

“Matter exists in various states: you can take a material like water and if you deep freeze it, it’ll be solid, and if you put it on a table, it’ll turn into a liquid, and if you put it into a kettle, it’ll turn into a gas,” said Gillies.

“It’s all the same stuff, but those are different states of matter. And if you take materials into laboratories, you can pull the electrons off the atoms and you have another state of matter which is called plasma,” he added.

But at the very beginning of the creation of the Universe, there may have been yet another state of matter. Physicists have dubbed this matter quark-gluon plasma.

“And this is the state of matter you have if you’re able to effectively melt the nuclear matter that makes up atoms today, releasing the things that are inside, which are quarks and gluons,” Gillies explained.

Researchers are hoping that the LHC is able to recreate the state of matter and to be able to study it, giving them an important clue about how it “evolved into the kind of matter that can make up you and me.”

“Although the tiny fireballs will only exist for a fleeting moment (less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) the temperatures will reach over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun,” said Dr David Evans of the University of Birmingham, UK, who will be taking part in the experiment.

“At the temperatures generated, even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of the atoms, will melt, resulting in a hot, dense soup of quarks and gluons,” Evans said.

The temperatures and densities that researchers are aiming for the collider to produce will be the highest ever created in an experiment, according to Evans.

Image Caption: Perspective view of the ALICE Time Projection Chamber (TPC). Credit: Antonio Saba/www.antoniosaba.com

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