When scientists on the Swiss-French border completed the world’s largest particle-collider test Sept. 10, beaming protons all the way around a 17-mile tunnel in an experiment they believe will provide data that will lead toward understanding the makeup of the universe, UAB’s Perry Gerakines was paying close attention.
Gerakines and many scientists around the world have been following the developments of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and are monitoring the physics experiment with high hopes. Gerakines believes this is one of the most important scientific experiments ever conducted.
|Perry Gerakines and Doug White inspect lab equipment in the Department of Physics. Gerakines says the LHC tests near the French-Swiss border are critical experiments.
The next big test was to be Oct. 21 when scientists at the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) were to create a high-energy collision. But a technical glitch has forced scientists to shut down the huge particle-smashing machine for at least two months. The goal is to eventually recreate conditions in the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang dawn of the universe 13.7 billion years ago.
“What they’re going to do is kind of like in the movie Ghostbusters, where they said don’t cross the proton beams, except they are going to cross the beams,” explains Gerakines, Ph.D, associate professor of P\physics. “They’re sending protons around the LHC in little bunches. Two of those bunches are going to be allowed to collide with each other. Then they’ve got detectors that are going to look at the bits and pieces that come out of these collisions.
“It’s going to take a while, but they’re going to examine the measurements they make out of these collisions, and hopefully it’s going to be able to tell us something about the fundamental properties of the forces that govern the universe.”
He expects the project to give particularly good insight into the subatomic world.
“Protons, neutrons, electrons, the existence of mass, how the forces of nature interact on that scale,” he says. “We will have a better understanding of the forces of nature and that will allow us to understand the origin of the forces we know today, and allow us to manipulate those and understand the inner workings of things like the sun and the stars and things that involve these high energies and nuclear interactions.”
Other skeptics have theorized a byproduct of the collisions could be micro black holes, subatomic version of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars. Gerakines says those fears are unfounded.