Twenty years in the making, the 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has begun its work today marking the start of what is now dubbed the 'biggest experiment on earth'. The particle accelerator has sent protons whizzing around 100 metres below the French-Swiss border for the first time following months of testing ahead of todays historic switch on. High expectations surround the experiment with hopes that colliding the protons together to create new particles will solve some of Physics biggest secrets.
Recreating the conditions thought to be present only a split-second after the Big Bang, scientists hope to learn more about the origins of mass; to discover new particles including the theorised Higgs-Boson and to decipher mysteries such as why nature favours matter over anti-matter; how many dimensions there are and what makes up dark matter. With high levels of radiation involved in the experiment any problems within the accelerator are not easily fixed. Just getting to any problem areas could take weeks so there is no wonder why scientists at todays launch looked so relieved that everything went to plan.
Imperial Physicists, from PhD students to Professors, are highly involved in all areas of the project along with colleagues from all over the world. A team of eight academic staff, twelve reasearch staff, eight engineers and twelve PhD students, including former RCSU President Jad Marrouche, from Imperial are involved in the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment alone.
Professor Tejinder Virdee, the Imperial Professor leading the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, has been engaged in the project for the last twenty years. He explains a bit more about what CERN means for the future of Physics:
"The LHC will let us collide particles at higher energies than ever before, creating conditions which haven't existed since just after the Big Bang. Effectively, our experiments here will let us look back in time to the infancy of the universe ? we have some predictions about what we will find, but the most exciting thing about this experiment is that we may find things we have not foreseen. All expectations are that what we will find at the LHC will re-write the textbooks."