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

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid