by Branyon May, Ph.D.
[Editor’s Note: The following article was written by A.P. scientist Dr. May who holds a B.S. degree in Physics from Angelo State University, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Astrophysics from the University of Alabama.]
In the news, it has been dubbed the “Big Bang Machine” (Boyle, 2008; “‘Big Bang’ Machine…, 2010; Than, 2011), but what exactly is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and what does it have to do, if anything, with the Big Bang? Constructed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and located along the French-Swiss border, the LHC is the world’s largest particle accelerator and has been described as “the largest and most sophisticated scientific instrument ever built” (“CERN Inaugurates…,” 2008). Located about 100 meters (330 feet) underground, the LHC can accelerate a beam of protons to 99.99% the speed of light through an ultra-high vacuum beam-pipe connected in a large, circular circuit, almost 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference. The enormous magnets that direct the particle beams along their paths are cryogenically cooled to only 1.9 degrees above absolute zero (-271.3 deg C) (“Facts and Figures,” 2008). Along the beam’s path are four large detectors, of which the ATLAS detector represents the largest particle detector ever built, having a volume of over 28,000 cubic meters (7.4 million gallons) and weighing some 7,000 tons (“ATLAS—A Toroidal…,” 2008).
With regard to its connection to Big Bang cosmology, a CERN press release from September 2, 2003 declared, “By colliding particles at extremely high energies, the LHC should shed light on such questions as…What was the state of matter a few microseconds after the Big Bang?” (“CERN Celebrates Discoveries…,” 2003). Three years later in 2006, a similar statement was made in an October press release, that the LHC “possesses enough energy to recreate the first instances of the Big Bang” (“Stephen Hawking Tours…,” 2006). Some have even circulated speculations that the LHC will create micro-black holes and recreate the Big Bang, and global news stories seem to insinuate the LHC will solve all the remaining questions concerning how the Universe arose from a Big Bang. In fact, a video titled “Big Bang v2.0,” produced with support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (a national research council in the United Kingdom), introduces the LHC under the auspices of being able to answer science’s biggest questions (“Big Bang v2.0,” n.d.). The video’s introduction displays the following questions: “What is Dark Matter?” “Why do things have mass?” “What happened at the Big Bang?” The next two frames give their reply: “The biggest questions in science will be answered… by the biggest experiment in history.” Yet, can the LHC really give the world what the headlines claim (cf. Miller, 2011a; Miller, 2011b)? It seems that a reality check is badly needed—one that is apart from all the sensational press and flashy media presentations….
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