CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the largest physics laboratory in the world. At this giant facility, which straddles the border between Switzerland and France near Geneva, more than 7000 scientists study the building blocks of matter and the forces that hold them together: tiny particles much smaller than atoms, such as quarks, neutrino, and electrons. They do so by beaming these particles around enormous circular underground tunnels until they are traveling at exceedingly high speeds, and then colliding two streams traveling in opposite directions. When the beams smash into each other, they create high energy conditions similar to those in the first instants of the Universe.
Over the past few years, CERN has been building its most powerful machine ever, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is being installed in a tunnel 27 kilometers (16.2 miles) in diameter. By studying collisions at higher energies than ever before, physicists believe they will better understand the mystery of how our Universe came to be. Last month CERN announced that the first attempt to circulate a beam in the LHC will be made on September 10th.
The research being conducted at CERN has been the driving force behind important technological advances in cryogenics, superconductivity, microelectronics, and medical diagnosis, among others. In fact, the World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1990 as a means to facilitate communication between scientists located all around the globe. Yet there remains enormous controversy about the technology that will be used by the LHC. The Internet is rife with claims that when the LHC begins operation, the collision between matter and anti-matter particles will set off a chain reaction that will turn the earth into a black hole within a matter of seconds. In response to these charges, CERN’s Chief Scientific Officer Jos Engelen said, “The safety review has shown that the LHC is perfectly safe; it points out that Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth – and the planet still exists.”
The following video, titled “CERN in Three Minutes,” promotes a positive view of the LHC:
This second video, titled “The CERN Black Hole,” paints a very different picture:
I guess we’ll find out who’s right in a few days.