The first and simplest emotion that occurs in the human mind, is curiosity. The world that we all share, is a product of curiosity, creativity, and exploration. The scientists and physicists are always up to laying down some new laws, definitions, and formulae, for the engineers to apply them to the best of their knowledge to help progress the society competing with the rushing time. This statement is nothing but the one-line description of how a civilization advance. Particle accelerator is one such machine working 24 x 7 to discover something new, something unforeseen, something fascinating that may alter our understanding of matter and space.
Particle accelerators are something that we do not talk about every day. Lamely, they are complex machines that use electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to nearly light speed and collide them at super-velocities. Every time the event takes place there is a production of an unknown mass or a structure or some energy quanta. The challenge is to trap, study and conclude from the images and graphs obtained for a collision of the particle for further research and exploration. Particle accelerators work at a temperature much lower than the temperature of outer space as it is required to conduct electricity in the complete absence of electric resistance. The electromagnets are cooled to cryogenic temperatures. In 1930, 27-year-old physicist Ernest Lawrence created the first circular particle accelerator at the University of California, Berkeley. Presently there are over 30,000 particle accelerators operational around the globe, Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being the largest accelerator, with a diameter of approximately 5 miles (diameter of first circular particle accelerator being 5 inches), extending 27 miles in perimeter, settled 100 meters deep below the surface.
It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between 1998 and 2008. It is situated near Geneva in Switzerland and is presently the biggest machine in operation. Large Hadron Collider is a vital ingredient for explaining why and how bodies in the universe acquired mass. The temperature, inside the LHC tube, is less than -270 degree Celsius. On the contrary, a particle accelerator can produce a blazing high temperature, up to few trillions’ degree Fahrenheit. In 2012, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider achieved a Guinness World Record for producing the world’s hottest man-made temperature, a blazing 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit.
Until now many energy quanta and particles have been discovered, most welcomed being the ‘Higgs Boson’. Higgs Boson is sometimes referred to as ‘The God Particle’. The term ‘God Particle’ was coined by the physicist Leon Lederman in his 1993 popular science book, “The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?” The particle that the book title refers to is the ‘Higgs boson’. Now this elucidation will bestow you with the essence of Higgs boson a.k.a. God Particle. It is believed that all particles born during Big Bang were massless. As the Universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value, an invisible force field, commonly known as the ‘Higgs field’ was established along with the associated carrier called the ‘Higgs boson’. The field prevails throughout the cosmos. Any particle that interacts with it attains a mass, in fact, the more it interacts, the heavier it becomes, leaving the un-interacted particles massless. The predicted mean lifetime of the god particle is found to be 1.56×10−22 sec. The two known massless particles are the photon (particle causing electromagnetism) and the gluon (carrier of the strong force). Neutrons and protons are formed by clustering of quarks by a strong force field carried by gluons. Not diving too deep into physics behind the big machines, let’s gather some facts, theories, and acclaimed sayings associated with the particle accelerators.
The discovery of the particle carrier of Higgs field (Higgs boson) electrified the scientific community. It was the greatest breakthrough in physics over the past few decades. Great discoveries are accompanied by different factions following their own beliefs. LHC has been popular for its conflicting debates on the risks involved in its operation. Some scientists have been working the major part of their life in the making of LHC and are fighting against the theories and statements given by other renowned scientists, warning the community of the perils. But what dazed everyone was the statement given by the greatest and most influential scientist of the preceded semi-centennial, late Stephen Hawking. He stated “The Higgs potential has the worrisome feature that it might become meta-stable at energies above 100 billion Giga electron-volts (Ge-V). This could mean that the universe could undergo catastrophic vacuum decay, with a bubble of the true vacuum expanding at the speed of light. This could happen at any time and we wouldn’t see it coming”. This is pretty hell of a statement that left people around the world fretful. Although, he stated a particle accelerator that reaches 100 billion Ge-V would be larger than Earth and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate.”. Many critics are worried that the souped-up collider could produce strangelets — a subatomic object that could, under the right conditions, start a chain reaction in a runaway fusion process that would convert everything into a strange unknown matter. Some say that these particle accelerators could generate energy high enough to form small black holes which may expand inevitably causing the destruction of the solar system in the blink of an eye.
The day, 7th August 2008 was rumoured to spawn doomsday. This was the day when LHC was run for the first time. Being a ten-year-old, the widespread news of the disastrous end of our beautiful Earth scared the hell out of me. I tracked my watch the whole day wishing the day would pass on and I would continue to live with my loved ones. This was my dreadful memory of the day.
Critics have always argued on the risks involved with operation of such machines and claiming that humans are still not ready to handle such complex energy and matter particles. But they circumvent the fact that, we are humans: creatures moulded out of curiosity, hungry to discover and learn more about the existence of the universe. The development of our intelligent race has never halted considering the risks accompanied by the consequences.
Truthfully, I feel like particle accelerators will enormously help us to know about the purpose of life and the existence of everything because living without a purpose is pointless.