Why the Large Hadron Collider Experiment Matters

The future of physics depends on it, for starters

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After a series of setbacks, scientists have done it. They've mashed protons together at 99 percent of the speed of light and at a record-high energy level of 3.5 trillion electron volts. The experiment took place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland but scientists around the world watched excitedly via live feed. What does this mean for the field? Science buffs revel in today's news:

  • This Is a Big Deal! exclaims Geoff Brumfiel at Nature:  "I can't think of another case where the future of an entire field hinges on the success of a single experiment...It could verify current theories of particle physics, most notably the Higgs mechanism, which endows all matter with mass. It could also discover new physics beyond the current 'standard model', and explain some current mysteries in physics like 'dark matter', a mysterious form of matter that makes up around 85% of all matter in the universe."
  • Why Scientists Are Excited  Melissa Franklin, Professor of Physics at Harvard, explains what this means for the scientific community in an interview late last year:
  • Don't Expect Instant Results, cautions LHC Spokesman Guido Tonelli to the BBC: "Major discoveries will happen only when we are able to collect billions of events and identify among them the very rare events that could present a new state of matter or new particles. This is not going to happen tomorrow. It will require months and years of patient work."
  • This Is What Science Is All About, rejoices Stacey Higginbotham at Gigaom: "The LHC built by CERN represents why I spend my days writing about technology — not because I’m excited to play with the latest gadgets, but because I value the spirit of curiosity and discovery that leads scientists to spend $16 billion to build something that may (not will, but may) give us an inkling about how the universe works."
  • Happy First Physics Day, declare the editors of Big Think: "Now there is a new March holiday, First Physics Day, which is being celebrated today because the particles in the Large Hadron Collider are finally being smashed together at super high energies that mirror conditions after the Big Bang. The physics community is aflutter over the potential of bagging the elusive Higgs boson, and the rest of us are grateful that, improbable as it seemed, the collider did not create a fatal black hole."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.