News / Science & Technology

Scientists Await New Worlds as CERN Collider Refitted

Simon Baird, deputy head of CERN's engineering department, poses in the LHC tunnel during a visit at the Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva, April 10, 2013.
Simon Baird, deputy head of CERN's engineering department, poses in the LHC tunnel during a visit at the Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva, April 10, 2013.
Reuters
— As two yellow-helmeted electricians rise slowly on a hoist from the cavern floor to check cabling on a huge red magnet, CERN scientist Marc Goulette makes clear he sees cosmic significance in their task.

"When this refit is completed," he says, gesturing across the gigantic Large Hadron Collider (LHC), "we shall be ready to explore an entirely new realm of physics."

The collider is only five years old but, after swiftly finding a crucial missing link to support mankind's main concept of the universe, is now entering a two-year revamp to double its power in the hope of breathtaking new discoveries.

Some scientists predict it will help identify the nature of strange dark matter that lurks around planets, stars and galaxies; others that it might find a zoo of new particles or even catch hints that space has more than three dimensions.

Buoyed by the early success, experimental physicists and theorists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research housed on a sprawling campus near Geneva, hope more stunning findings may follow as soon as this decade.

To make this possible hundreds of engineers and technicians are preparing CERN's collider - a 27-km (17-mile) subterranean complex of machinery and cables.

By 2015, it has to be made ready to double its power and its reach into the microscopic world of elementary particles that emerged from the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

"It is a giant task," says senior CERN engineer Simon Baird, showing Reuters around the tunnel 100 meters (330 feet) below the Franco-Swiss border at the foot of the Jura mountains. "Every connection must be checked and reinforced during this shutdown."

Just 10 days after the LHC was first fired up in 2008, a helium leak and resulting explosion in the tunnel caused major damage, and repairs took two years.

"We have to be more certain than certain that can't happen again," adds Baird.

Despite the setback, in just over two years of operations - involving 10,000 specialists around the world analyzing the data its particle collisions produced - the LHC came up last summer with the long-sought elementary particle, the Higgs boson.

Beyond Standard  Model

That, explained Canadian physicist Pauline Gagnon, "was the final brick in the edifice of our concept of the universe" - the three-decade old Standard Model that fits everything known about how particles, at the base of all matter, behave.

"With the LHC power doubled, we will start looking for what we think is out there beyond that model. And we always hope that something will turn up that no one had ever thought of. The most likely is something totally unexpected."

But among the "known unknowns" to be sought, Gagnon plumps for dark matter - the invisible stuff that makes up some 27 percent of the universe, six times more than the normal material that reflects light and can be seen from Earth or space.

James Wells, a U.S. professor and theoretician at CERN for two years, looks to more exotic versions of the Higgs - the particle whose associated energy field turned matter to mass after the Big Bang, shaping galaxies - and life on earth.

Those, he said, "could lead us to supersymmetry" - a theory, so far unsupported by LHC data, that every elementary particle has an invisible and heavier partner - "and to up to eight more spatial dimensions".

Oliver Buchmueller, an experimental physicist, also hopes to see proof of supersymmetry - popularly known among proponents as SUSY - and of the extra dimensions foreseen in string theory - the idea that particles are no more than vibrating strings.

Could that take science beyond, into the extension of string theory that predicts the existence of parallel universes or a perpetually growing galaxy of universes, unpenetrable one from the other, that cosmologists call the Multiverse?

"Not in our time," says Wells. "But we humans are amazingly creative. One day, if it exists, we will find a way to prove it."

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid