Random Thoughts on the Universe

Friday, February 19, 2010

A New Era in Physics

My network of physics spies tells me that the Large Hadron Collider is finally set to run and introduce a new era in particle physics.

You may recall that a little over a year ago it was supposed to start, but technical problems forced them to reheat the machine slowly (it operates at very low temperatures) and then make repairs. That and further testing added a long delay, but it may run now.

So why are physicists around the globe so ecstatic? The LHC has been under construction for many years and is the biggest collider yet built. The previous colliders could only generate energies of 1 TeV or so, which limits their ability to look at high energy reactions. The LHC will slowly climb to 14 TeV, giving more than an order of magnitude increase in the energy that can be studied.

And that range is possible quite important:
  • Our best theories predict that the Higgs boson, which gives mass to all particles, has to be found in that range or it doesn't exist. And if it doesn't exist then it means nature has made a very complicated system for generating mass - but why?
  • For the last ten years there has been increasing motivation for the existence of higher dimensions in the Universe. In fact many current problems in physics could be resolved with a higher dimension model. The LHC has the potential to discover excitations of gravity in higher dimensions, and possibly even black holes! This might be the only chance to study real black holes for many centuries.
  • We also know from satellite experiments that 95% of the energy in the Universe is in unknown forms - not matter as we know it. With a range of 14TeV, the LHC is capable of probing most models of dark matter/dark energy and finally resolving this question. But as with the Higgs, if the LHC sees nothing then physics suddenly gets a lot more complicated...
  • We don't know what has never been seen before. The history of physics is filled with examples of new discoveries from unexpected places. (ie. two groups are counting supernovae and suddenly discover the Universe is accelerating faster than predicted, leading to the discovery of dark energy).

In the next few years, the LHC should revolutionize the laws of physics...

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