Large Hadron Collider

The best Scientific discovery of 2008 was not simply a discovery, but the ability to see decades of scientific and technological advancements come to fruition. This year became the year that we finally came one step closer to truly understanding how our universe is put together, and will possibly even allow us to unravel the fabric of life itself.

Since 1983, members of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have been hard at work underneath the Swiss-French border creating a machine larger and more powerful than anything ever previously created by mankind. This machine is known as the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. the LHC is designed to collide proton or lead ion beams against each other at 99.999999% the speed of light. It is hoped that by colliding protons at such a high speed, scientists can cause the theoretical Higgs Boson particle to appear. This particle, smaller than the three known elements of an atom (protons, neutrons and electrons), is hypothesised to explain how massless elementary particles can cause matter to have mass. Since the theory was first put forward, the actual discovery of the particle has seemed like an impossible dream, and yet in 2008, the LHC was switched on for the first time. I liken the moment the switch was flicked to watching a rocket exit the atmosphere for the first time. While it may not have had the grandeur of that event, it had similar significance to the advancement of the human race, and our knowledge of the universe around us.

The creation of the Large Hadron Collider has opened up new and exciting potential in the field of modern science. The experiments that can be carried out within the machine could hold so many answers to questions that have been asked by the world for hundreds of years

Almost as exciting as finding the Higgs Boson, is the potential that we don’t find it. Although it would throw much current scientific research into doubt, it would mean rethinking our entire idea of how matter is created. The thought that something even more mysterious and unfathomable than the Higgs Boson particle exists in the universe could cause a whole new school of scientific thought. With a theory as far-fetched as the Higgs Boson, disproving it is just as important as proving it.

Of course, everything that is theorised about the outcome of the LHC experiments is simply that, a theory. And with technical problems causing the delay of any further experiments until summer 2009, we will have to theorise for a little longer. However, with the initial powering up of the machine and the successful completion of a first circulation of protons, mankind has reached an exciting new age in science, and I for one am proud to have been alive to witness it.