Smashing science start up

10 September 2008

Today scientists make history as they turn on the world's biggest experiment. Deep underground in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider is the most powerful particle accelerator the world has ever seen.

Tiny particles called protons will zoom around the Large Hadron Collider's 27 km underground tunnel over 11,000 times a second!

Image: CERN

'This is a momentous moment for particle physicists,' explains scientist Mark Pesaresi. 'Thousands of physicists and engineers from 45 countries have been involved with the design and build. It's an incredible feeling to see years of work coming together.'

Mark Pesaresi, proton smashing expert, Imperial College London.

What do they hope to find?

The experiment could shed light on why particles have mass and explain how the universe began! Physicists hope to complete what's called the 'standard model', the theory they use to describe particles and how they interact.

This is ATLAS: protons will be smashed together in huge detectors like this one.

Image: CERN

Will it be the end of the world?

Some theories predict that gravity becomes much stronger when particles collide at such high energies. It's been suggested these collisions could create tiny black holes capable of gobbling up the Earth.

By looking at particle collisions scientists hope to answer some of the remaining questions in particle physics.

Image: CERN

Should we be worried?

'The energy released in any collisions will be about the same as two colliding mosquitoes. Any black holes would be very small and break apart extremely quickly.

Lily Asquith, particle investigator, University College London.

Scientist Lily Asquith reassures us: 'Particles regularly enter the Earth's atmosphere from space producing far more energetic collisions and we're still here to tell the tale. The only difference is that here they are in a place where we can study them. I won't be losing any sleep over it.'