Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thunderbirds Are Go: Large Hadron Collider in Operation at Last

If science is a brainy pursuit, I have to admit to a stupidity: For the longest time, I thought the name Large Hadron Collider was somehow referring to the (very) late Roman emperor Hadrian. The one who built the wall in Britain to keep out the dentists. Him?

But no, I was incorrect. A hadron is a particle. So "Large Hadron Collider" is just a very specific, straightforward name for a giant particle accelerator, 100 meters beneath the French and Swiss borders, where scientists are doing very brainy work that will help us understand the universe (on large and small scales) much better.

It's been called the most expensive science project in the world. At $9 billion dollars, with 15 years of development and construction, LHC finally was completed last year, only to be shut down immediately for repairs. But it started up again this week, and scientists were thrilled, because it started delivering results much more quickly than expected. The first collisions came just a few days after the restart of operations, and scientists hadn't expected results so quickly.

No, it was not the creation of a world-devouring black hole that had been feared by the hysterics among us. (I'd make more fun of such people, but then I thought the thing was named after a dead Roman. Humility is no fun.) But researchers can tell a lot from these events, including recreating some of the conditions that existed right after the Big Bang.

A black hole would have been cooler, as would giving the place an imperial Roman moniker. But I look forward to hearing more news from LHC.

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