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Scientists Begin Testing World's Largest Atom Smasher

The Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful atom smasher, has gotten under way. Physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, in Geneva successfully injected the first beam of particles into this colossal multi-billion dollar machine. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA that scientists believe the LHC will unlock many secrets of the universe.

Bystanders gaping at a giant screen watched physicists hunched over computers at the CERN Control Center inject the first beam of protons into the Large Hadron Collider.

The first attempt to fire up the LHC failed. So, the second, successful attempt was greeted with a palpable sense of relief and even giddiness from the many physicists who have labored for more than two decades to get this 10-billion-dollar experiment underway.

The beam of particles is now traveling around the 27-kilometer underground tunnel, which straddles the Swiss-French border near Geneva. It will take a couple of months for the LHC to get up to speed. The accelerated protons will travel at nearly the speed of light.

Theoretical physicist John Ellis tells VOA the collisions which are produced will allow scientists to learn what happened when the universe was born 13.7 billion years ago.

"We are going to be creating individual collisions," Ellis explained. "Collisions, which occurred in the universe when it was something like a trillionth of a second old. Now, we are not going to be re-creating in the laboratory pieces of the universe, obviously. These are just individual collisions, which are the same as what happened when the universe was extremely young."

LHC Project Leader, Lyn Evans calls the LHC a machine of discovery. He says physicists believe they will find an elusive elementary particle called the Higgs Boson, which should explain why other particles obtain mass.

And, even if the Higgs is not found, he says the effort will not have been in vain.

"The quest for human knowledge is never a bust," Evans noted. If the Higgs is not there - there are many theorists that say that the most interesting thing of all is if the Higgs is not there. The nightmare scenario for this machine is that we find the Higgs and nothing else....If the Higgs is there, we will find it. If the Higgs is not there, we will have to find out why it is not there and what is replacing it."

Physicists say the LHC is perfectly safe. They say the proof is that the Earth has been bombarded by cosmic rays, triggering collisions similar to those of the Large Hadron Collider, since the solar system formed more than four billion years ago.