What is the Large Hadron Collider and what is CERN trying to do with it?

On Tuesday July 5, in a giant underground complex in Meyrin, Switzerland, physicists announcement that they had discovered three “alien” particles, never before seen by science – a feat accomplished via the world’s largest ring of superconducting magnets, also known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

For anyone who got their science news from TikTok, the discovery of three new subatomic particles probably didn’t live up to the promise of a “portal that will open on July 5“, or the widely shared notion that the event would look like a clip from the final season of stranger things.

The hype is not new

Ever since Bill Clinton became president, people have been obsessed with this very, very big particle accelerator, which is run by the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN). Back when the LHC was still in the works, some scientists thought it would create a black hole, prompting Italian physicist Francesco Calogero to write an essay in 2000 titled “Could a lab experiment destroy planet Earth?

This essay kicked off years of comments, serious or not, about the LHC killing us all, including John Oliver’s 2009 segment on The daily show in which he interviewed a science teacher who believed his experiments had a “one in two chance” of creating an Earth-destroying black hole. Oliver also interviewed real CERN scientists, who were much more reassuring, but also much less funny.

And yes, for everyone, the LHC may have created black holes that no one could observe, and yet the Earth is still there. Two researchers proposed in 2011 that mini black holes “bind matter by gravity without significant absorption”. In other words, mini black holes drift around without disturbing anyone.

Find the Higgs boson

The LHC was not at all designed to create a black hole, but to understand, among other things, why matter has mass.

In Geneva in 2012, the Director General of CERN, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, announcement with great fanfare that his team had discovered the Higgs boson particle. In short, using the LHC to smash particles together – scary as it may seem to some – was the fastest way to observe what is called the Higgs field, a theoretical energy field that permeates everything and permeates mass matter. The particle that Heuer and his team observed in 2012 corresponded to the theoretical calculations of British physicist Peter Higgs, who had first proposed the existence of such a field, and the particles that constitute it, therefore Higgs won the Nobel Prize, along with his colleague François Englebert.

Pretty amusing, the CERN team was snubbed by the Nobel Foundation. Maybe they were crazy about the whole black hole thing.

“It’s disappointing”

But when the LHC was first launched in 2008, there were hopes beyond the mere discovery of the Higgs boson, which mostly answered an arcane question about matter that few laymen had ever bothered. to pose. A theoretical physicist, Erez Etzion, thought it might advance our understanding of other dimensions. Others hoped it would be unlock the secrets of dark matter. None of this happened, and the LHC didn’t make headlines for years, except in 2016 when a weasel climbed into the wiring and died, shutting down the entire system.

To quote Sabine Hossenfelder, former physicist and researcher at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study: “Let’s be honest: it’s disappointing.

The LHC was taken offline for upgrades in 2018. CERN press release at the time, the outage would last two years. According to CERN, when revived, it would achieve “higher beam intensities”.

The return

Today, the LHC finally came back to life. Apparently, the upgrade was a success: CERN takes a minor victory lap on the aforementioned discovery of a previously unknown type of “pentaquark” and two new “tetraquarks”.

Does this mean the LHC is a few more experiments away from opening a portal and transferring a demogorgon to our dimension? Since the LHC had already given us tetraquark and pentaquark discoveries in the pastwe should probably temper our expectations.

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