The largest and most complex machine yet created by man, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been created to investigate the subatomic world beyond the reach of other tools of physicists. Recently upgraded with the new “brain” large and complex enough to observe more of the billions of collisions per second the collider creates, new data has been immediately forthcoming. While every step along the path of experimentation provides new insight and direction, the primary cause for the creation of the LHC was the search for extra dimensions, and the dark matter which could support the most advanced stage of theoretical physics, super string theory.
Like a world prized specialist who is treated to all the best, the Large Hadron Collider takes a break every winter to rest its massive processing power, not overtax the machinery, and to receive upgrades. This past winter saw the LHC gifted with a new super-processor brain to handle larger amounts of data. This upgrade allows the LHC to “now collide particles at nearly twice the energy that was used to discover the Higgs boson, the long-hypothesized particle that gives all others mass” (Dunning). This new brain is known as a “trigger system” and had to be specially created for the unique needs of the LHC.
These unique needs have to do with not only the question of extra dimensions and super string theory, but with the history of the creation of the universe. LHC analysts are focusing on the question of why after the Bing Bang matter survived and anti-matter did not. The researchers support the foundation for this inquiry with the model of creation;
Fourteen billion years ago, the Universe began with a bang. Crammed within an infinitely small space, energy coalesced to form equal quantities of matter and antimatter. But as the Universe cooled and expanded, its composition changed. Just one second after the Big Bang, antimatter had all but disappeared, leaving matter to form everything that we see around us — from the stars and galaxies, to the Earth and all life that it supports. (LHCb)
This brain allows for an increase in available energy and data processing. This way accomplished in order to “hopefully allow scientists to probe the properties of the Higgs boson, as well as potentially discover new elementary particles” (Dunning). This is exactly what happened just a little over a month since the installation of the new brain. On the 28th of June, the collaborative project of the LHCb (Large Hadron Collider Beauty Project) has observed four new particles. These particles are “tetraquark” in nature, which are “unusual arrangements of four fundamental particles called quarks. The new particles are highly unstable, decaying almost immediately into other particles” (O’Connell). This is an exciting affirmation of those who created the new brain, and all those collaborating physicists who laid down the speculative theory which guides the highly successful experiments.
The specificity of the new brain allows for a very clear understanding of what these new particles are. After all, “These are not new fundamental particles heralding a new era of physics (like the unexpected new one recently hinted at) but rather are new combinations of previously known particles in the standard model of particle physics” (O’Connell). The tetraquark particles have been deemed “exotic” because they are composed of four quarks, while quarks usually group together in twos and threes. This discovery is building upon former discoveries of the LHC team, which found these exotic particles through sensitively observing the decay of the B meson particle they first observed last year (Toor).
The standard model of particle physics cannot explain dark matter, gravity, and other phenomenon which hover on the fringes of the discovery of extra dimensions. The rare B meson decay was observed as; Particle decay occurs when elementary particles spontaneously transform into other elementary particles. In the LHC experiments, protons collided at high energy to create 1 trillion particles known as neutral B mesons, some of which then decayed into pairs of oppositely charged muons — heavier ‘cousins’ of electrons. (Toor)
The new tetraquark particles observation points to a more specific understanding of how particles are interrelated at the atomic level. It was in 2014 that CERN scientists first saw that quarks could form four-quark groupings, and last year the same scientists found a grouping of five quarks (O’Connell). Quarks are the smallest elements of particles that can yet be detected by human equipment, but string theory posits that smaller still forming the fundamental base for all life are vibrating strings of energy. This theory is why the LHC continues to peer deeper and deeper. For the information that quarks gang up together to form protons and neutrons which form the foundation for atoms is not enough to satisfy the questions of the discipline. However, one wonders if any discovery, proof, or knowledge would ever be enough for the feeling that the search had been completed?
These new particles are important for understanding how larger quarks interact which could have larger implications for the atom. The names of the particles reflect its weight in megaelectronvolts, and stand as X(4140), X(4274), X(4500) and X(4700). The constitution of the new particles are that;
All four are made of the same gang of quarks (one charm, one anti-charm, one strange and one anti-strange) but differ in the energy states of their constituents. In this sense, the four are really just versions of the same particle. Besides their masses, the physicists were able to measure each particle’s quantum numbers, which describe their subatomic properties. (O’Connell)
Most likely this is the first of many new discoveries to come due to the increased sensitivity of the LHC. After all, the upgrade now allows for “a collision energy of 13 TeV, and generating one billion proton collisions per second” (O’Connell). This unprecedented rate of sensitivity matched with the collision power of the equipment offers incredible new vistas of possibility. In 2010, CERN scientists shocked the world by creating a “mini Big Bang”. This was accomplished;
in an experiment that mimicked conditions a millionth of a second after the birth of the universe. By colliding lead ions – atoms of lead stripped of their electrons – at close to the speed of light, researchers generated temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the sun. The explosions were so powerful they created a hot dense ‘soup’ of sub-atomic particles last seen just after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. (Derbyshire)
Due to the fear and awe connected with black holes, many people feared that black holes created in the LHC would have the potential to destroy the world. However, “Scientists have always dismissed any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage” (Derbyshire). While scientists do admit that theoretically this could occur, the risk they felt was well within the boundaries of experimentation in the hope of “the quark-gluon plasma will allow them to learn more about the Strong Force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature” (Derbyshire). The process of this experiment required the involvement of nearly 1,000 physicists and engineers from over 100 institutes in 30 different countries.
The collisions which result in such dynamic results have their origins in the beams. This process consists of; beams are made of ‘trains’ of bunches, each containing around 100 billion protons, moving at almost the speed of light around the ring of the LHC. These bunch trains circulate in opposite directions and cross each other at the center of experiments. Last year, operators increased the number of proton bunches up to 2,244 per beam, spaced at intervals of 25 nanoseconds. (phys.org)
This process has proved very successful in the four largest LHC experimental collaborations: ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb. These programs are being supported by three smaller experiments, “TOTEM, LHCf and MoEDAL—which focus with enhanced sensitivity on specific features of proton collisions” (phys.org). The new brain which is at the heart of allowing this expanse of investigation is a marvel of contemporary creation. The creators affirm;
The upgraded system has been five years in the making and is incredibly powerful at processing data: our system is the size of a microwave oven, yet processes the same volume of data as the entire internet in 2007. It’ll be really exciting to see what it finds! (Dunning)
The collaborative power of the Large Hadron Collider team is a feat rarely seen in human history. Jim Siegrist, Associate Director of Science for High Energy Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy affirms, “We're proud to support more than a thousand U.S. scientists and engineers who play integral parts in operating the detectors, analyzing the data, and developing tools and technologies to upgrade the LHC's performance in this international endeavor” (Phys.org). This global effort at understanding the roots of creation have the potential to help humanity find more reasons to see themselves as one family rather than the many disparate and broken groups contending. The potential for a more positive direction also fuels the possibilities for technologies which may help humanity through this challenging period of global climate change.
The Large Hadron Collider is an amazing tool for experimental physics that has broken ground for many new insights as well as provided substantial evidence for theories of the past. The amount of data that will be collected in 2016 will eclipse every year before it due to the upgraded computer brain, and the possibilities for learning more about black holes, dark matter, the construction of sub atomic particles, and the reality of extra dimensions is gaining ground with each success of the program. The Large Hadron Collider represents a groundbreaking collaboration between many nations each in search of a fuller understanding of the nature of the universe.
Derbyshire, David. “Birth of the universe 're-created': Large Hadron Collider generates 'mini Big Bang'.” Daily Mail, 9 Nov. 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1327769/Large-Hadron-Collider-creates-mini-Big-Bang.html
Dunning, Hayley. “Large Hadron Collider gets upgraded 'brain' to handle billions of collisions.” Imperial College London, 26 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_26-5-2016-15-3-59
LHCb. “Welcome to the LHCb experiment.” LHCb: CERN-European Organization for Nuclear Research, 2016. Retrieved from: http://lhcb-public.web.cern.ch/lhcb-public/
O’Connell, Cathal. “CERN finds four new X particles – how big a deal is this?” Cosmos Magazine, 4 July 2016. Retrieved from: https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/cern-finds-four-new-x-particles-how-big-a-deal-is-this
Pandolfi, Stefania. “LHCb unveils new particles.” CERN, 1 Jul. 2016. Retrieved from: https://home.cern/about/updates/2016/07/lhcb-unveils-new-particles
Phys.org. “CERN's Large Hadron Collider is once again smashing protons, taking data.” Phys.org, 11 May 2016. Retrieved from: http://phys.org/news/2016-05-cern-large-hadron-collider-protons.html
Stahl, Lesley. “Extra Dimensions? Dark Matter? A more powerful collider hunts for clues.” CBS, 8 Nov. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/extra-dimensions-dark-matter-a-more-powerful-collider-hunts-for-clues/
Toor, Amar. “Large Hadron Collider captures incredibly rare particle decay for the first time.” The Verge, 13 May 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/13/8599705/large-hadron-collider-discovery-meson-decay