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.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

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 Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home 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.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

/
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.