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A discussion of a unique physics experiment by three faculty scientists at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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Photos by Elhaum Mogharreban.

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Dr. Hei-Chi Chan, Associate Professor of Mathematics (left)
Dr. John Martin, Assistant Professor of Astronomy-Physics Professor Charles Schweighauser, Professor of Astronomy-Physics, Emeritus The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most grandiose, largest, most expensive scientific experiment ever carried out in any science by human beings. The experiment is located on the border between Switzerland and France, near Geneva. The experiment is based on Einstein’s most famous equation, E=MC2, which shows that mass and energy are two forms of the same thing. The Large Hadron Collider will turn mass into energy and back into mass again so scientists can study new forms of matter. Dr. Chan discusses the four known forces in the universe: Gravity, by far the weakest; the Weak Force, responsible for radioactive decay; the Electromagnetic Force, which holds atoms together and is responsible for most kinds of radiation, including visible light; and the Strong Force, which holds atomic nuclei together. Protons, which are affected by the Strong Force, will be accelerated close to the speed of light in the LHC and then smashed together so we can learn something about new forms of matter, and indeed new physics.
The Large Hadron Collider uses well over 1,000 magnets, each developing 30,000 times the Earth’s magnetic field. When the LHC is running at full power, it will use enough electricity to light a city the size of Geneva, Switzerland. One of the primary experiments to be carried out by the LHC, is to look for the Higgs Particle, which no one has ever seen, but which is thought to give mass to all particles – as well as to stars, galaxies, and human beings – in the universe. The Higgs Particle acts on matter like a soccer ball on a muddy field. The mud, which represents the Higgs Particle, slows the soccer ball; this slowing action is what we call mass. According to Dr. Martin, the LHC will recreate the energy of the universe not seen since one-trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, when the universe formed. There was enough energy to create a quark-gluon plasma that has not existed in the expanding and cooling universe since its beginning nearly 14 billion years ago.
A member of the audience wanted to know if it were true that the LHC could create a black hole that would swallow the Earth. “No!” answered Dr. Martin emphatically, “If the experiment creates a black hole, it would be so small that it would have no effect on the Earth and its inhabitants. In fact, billions of these could be passing through you every second and you would never know.” The audience included both students and members of the community interested in this incredible experiment that will take place over the next few years. Young and old alike were told that the LHC would also investigate why the universe is made up of ordinary matter, and why there is no anti-matter in it. Everyone was fascinated by the LHC and its potential for answering some of our most fundamental questions about the universe: Why does matter have mass? Why is there no anti-matter? What were the early moments of the universe like? How can we reconcile particle physics with Einstein’s Theory of Gravity?

We still have a lot to learn about the universe. The Large Hadron Collider will help us with important and long-sought answers.