July 1, 2008

Exploding the Myths


THE secrets of the universe could soon be unlocked with the help of the brain power of North East scientists.

Known as the "tunnel to the beginning of time" a machine is under construction in Switzerland that will create conditions that match what happened one billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

And scientists from our region are part of the team that will use the machine to gain groundbreaking insights into the origins of Earth.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been in construction for the past 20 years and this summer will become the coldest place on the planet at - 271.25C to help reveal the secrets of the beginning of time and explain the fundamental make-up of matter.

Prof Nigel Glover of Durham University is one of the scientists who will be analysing the data and says it is the most exciting physical development in the past 25 years.

Speaking to the Chronicle about the experiment, he said: "When I started my PHD at Durham 25 years ago, talk of this was in the offing and it has taken that long for this to come about.

"So this is no little step we are taking here. We are really going into new territory with this machine - we are upping the energy levels that have been used before by a factor of 10.

"What they will do is fire tiny proton particles around the LHC and see what happens when they crash into each other to create matt er.

"At the moment there is a standard theory of particles given to us by a Professor Peter Higgs, from Edinburgh University in 1964. He explains how one large particle is the key to creating mass from matter, the Higgs boson, but no-one has yet observed the Higgs boson.

"This machine gives us the conditions we would need to create it.

Therefore, if it can be created, we can confirm that the theory is correct or, if not, we will start to rip up the text books and start again - and that's what we like."

Prof Glover, who has been at the university as a lecturer since 1991, is one of around 45 scientists who will be examining the data from Durham University.

He said: "There is other evidence from astronomy about the Big Bang but being able to create conditions so close to those at the beginning of the universe is extremely exciting.

"Successful collisions, where matter is formed, will only happen once in a million million times, but when it does we will be able to observe and could find out all manner of things we haven't discovered yet."

When the LHC goes operational it will fire particles round 17 miles of circular tubes. They will be accelerated with such velocity that they will collide more than 11,000 times a second.

The technology costs around pounds 2.5bn to produce.

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