On Monday, Europe’s Large Hadron Collider set a record by smashing protons together at energies never achieved before. This energy, 1.18 trillion electronvolts (TeV), beats the previous record of 0.98 TeV in 2001 by America’s Tevatron collider at Fermilab outside of Chicago.
So, you might be asking, why should we care?
Well, to figure out how the universe works, scientists have needed to build incredibly huge proton-smashers to unlock what’s inside of them. The Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) is buried 300 feet under the border between France and Switzerland and is actually a large circular tunnel that is 17 miles round, used to accelerate protons to near the speed of light.
Physicists have a pretty strong model for what makes up all the stuff in the universe; it’s called the Standard Model (catchy, isn’t it?…). In that model, everything in the universe is made up of atoms. The atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. And the protons and neutrons are made of things called quarks (confused, yet?…)
Well, in addition to these fundamental particles, there are other particles that carry forces, bonding these particles together and pushing others apart. Some of these are called photons, gravitons, and gluons (these actually hold quarks together, like glue…).
So, with other big proton-smasing colliders, like the one at Fermilab, scientists have discovered all of the quarks, including the most illusive one, the so-called top quark, in 1995. This was pretty tough, because the top quark has a lot of mass, so it requires a lot of energy to bust protons apart to see it.
However, we haven’t discovered all of the other particles, particularly the Higgs boson, which scientists believe is the answer to why particles have mass in the first place. Discovering the Higgs boson would complete the Standard Model.
One problem is that the Standard Model doesn’t predict what the mass of the Higgs boson is, so we don’t really know how much energy it would take to observe it. It’s possible that the LHC still isn’t powerful enough to observe this particle…
Hopefully, the LHC will result in some additional hard evidence to confirm science’s thoeries of the universe. Let’s see what comes out of it… For more on the LHC record, you can read about it here or here…
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