Looking Up – Bob Eklund

Hadron Collider
Hadron Collider

UK Scientists Create “Mini Big Bangs” in Large Hadron Collider –

UK scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider’s (LHC’s) ALICE experiment at CERN are celebrating the LHC’s latest achievement which opens up an entirely new avenue of exploration. The successful collision of lead ions in the accelerator at record energies allows matter to be probed as it would have been in the first moments of the Universe’s existence.

“We are thrilled with the achievement!” said Dr. David Evans from the University of Birmingham. “The collisions generated ‘mini Big Bangs’ and the highest temperatures and densities ever achieved in an experiment.”

“This process took place in a safe, controlled environment generating incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs with temperatures of over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the center of the Sun,” Dr. Evans added. “At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt—resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma. By studying this plasma, physicists hope to learn more about the Strong Force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. The Strong Force not only binds the nuclei of atoms together but is responsible for 98% of their mass. I now look forward to studying a tiny piece of what the universe was made of just a millionth of a second after the Big Bang.”

“I am so excited that the ALICE experiment is finally going to be able to glimpse lead ion collisions from the LHC,” said Birmingham University PhD student Zoe Matthews. “The environment the collisions will create is mind-blowing, and observing them will offer up insights about the earliest moments in our universe’s life. I feel so lucky to be a small part of this exciting piece of history.”

The 10,000-ton ALICE experiment has been specifically designed to study the extreme conditions produced in these lead collisions. While the conditions created in the LHC detector will be a world record for man-made experiments and represent a great achievement for science and engineering, they pose no threat. More energetic particle reactions occur regularly throughout the Universe, including in the upper atmosphere of the Earth itself.

ALICE is one of the four main experiments at the LHC designed to study the physics from ultra-high-energy proton-proton and lead-lead interactions. Physicists working on ALICE will study the properties, still largely unknown, of the state of matter called a quark-gluon plasma. This will help them understand more about the strong force and how it governs matter; the nature of the confinement of quarks—why quarks are confined in matter, such as protons; and how the Strong Force generates 98% of the mass of protons and neutrons. The ALICE detector is placed in the LHC ring, some 300 feet underground, is 52 feet high, 85 feet long and weighs about 10,000 tons.

The UK work on the ALICE experiment is funded by that country’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with physicists from the University of Birmingham playing a key role.

Located near Geneva, Switzerland, CERN is one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics—finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works.

For further information, see the CERN LHC website:

You can contact Bob Eklund at [email protected], or visit his website at www.bobeklund.com.

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