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Atom Smasher Sets New Record

The world's biggest atom smasher — the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider that straddles the Swiss-French border — set another record today by colliding protons at three times the previous record for energy created, the Associated Press reports.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Richard Harris told host Renee Montagne that scientists hope the tests will verify that the machine can start doing more sophisticated experiments that help them learn about the origins of the universe. And, he says, though the machine could theoretically produce "tiny little black holes," those should "evaporate":

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As we've previously reported, a couple scientists have playfully suggested that nature may not let the Collider succeed.

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET. The Associated Press now adds that the scientists measured " a combined energy level of 7 trillion electron volts" during today's event. And, AP writes:

"In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the first successful collisions were confirmed. Their colleagues from around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new record, which surpasses the 2.36 (trillion electron volts) CERN recorded last year.

"Dubbed the world's largest scientific experiment, scientists hope the machine can approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.

"The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe."

The BBC adds that one electron volt is "the energy gained by a single electron as it accelerates through a potential of one volt." Several "teraelectrovolts" are "still only the energy in the motion of a flying mosquito, but that energy is packed into a comparatively few particles, traveling at more than 99.99% of the speed of light."

And CNet News' Deep Tech blog offers this description of what happens:

"The accelerator generates two beams of protons that travel at 99.99 percent of the speed of light, whizzing them around an underground ring 26.7 kilometers in circumference. The beams travel in opposite directions, and the actual experiments take place when the protons collide at high energies—ultimately at 14 TeV, with two beams each at 7 TeV. A total of 600 million collisions per second are created, producing a huge quantity of data to capture and process."

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