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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid