This month the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European particle-physics lab in Switzerland, begins functioning again after a significant £97 million (US$149 million) upgrade–this time running at about twice its previous energy. The LHC sends protons racing toward one another at nearly the speed of light. The collision splits them into smaller, very short-lived particles that are recorded on highly sophisticated detectors for later analysis. The LHC is the largest machine ever built and was responsible for the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle that creates a field that confers mass onto other particles.
The energies involved in the collisions are so huge (relative to their subatomic scale) that the explosions created are similar to what happened at the moment of the big bang when this universe was born. First among the exotic particles that result from the new experiments that physicists are hoping to detect are WIMPS (weakly interacting massive particles) that theoretically account for “dark matter.” No one has as yet been able to directly observe this mysterious dark matter, but judging from gravitational information, it accounts for most of the matter in the universe. WIMPS would have been created right after the big bang and finding them would explain a lot about the present universe and would help confirm the best models of the early universe. Particle physicists are very excited!