Katherine Bourzac

A View from Katherine Bourzac

Starting Up the World's Biggest Experiment

Turning on the Large Hadron Collider, CERN begins a new era of particle physics.

  • September 10, 2008

The biggest physics experiment in history started up early this morning. At 4:27 A.M. eastern time, two proton beams made their first laps around the 27-kilometer tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva. By late fall, once the behemoth has gotten warmed up, physicists at CERN hope to achieve particle collisions with an energy of five trillion electron volts; eventually, they’ll bump it up to seven trillion. As Nobel laureate and MIT Institute Professor Jerome Friedman wrote in our May/June issue, these collisions should help answer some of physics’s most fundamental questions: Why do particles have mass? Are there spatial dimensions beyond the ones we know? There will also likely be some surprises, if history is a guide.

Credit: CERN

But today’s switch-on, though momentous, was only the first step–what the New York Times this morning compared to turning on a car engine for the first time. That’s because this car needs to rev particles to near the speed of light, at temperatures near absolute zero. For a look at the immense and gorgeous inner workings of the accelerator, see our photo essay.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.