Some 100 meters deep in the bowels of the earth below where I stand, millions and millions of protons go around and round in a large 27 km circle that stretches from the Jura in France to Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
They move faster and faster till they are almost at the speed of light in a tube that is colder than outer space (with temperatures that are close to absolute zero). At four points along the circle, superconducting magnets (like the one in the picture) make the protons deviate ever so slightly from their course so that they are likely to have a head on collision with protons that are are going around in a circle from the opposite direction. The smash or 'event' results in a burst of energy and millions and millions of other particles being formed rather like a glass going up in smithereens after a high speed car crash.
The data produced is massive ..like having 500 billion phone calls in a second. Hundreds of computers and high speed cameras (that click 4 million frames a minute) capture the data, filtering out all but the most relevant bits. And even then the data generated is massive: as much as 27 CDs every minute. Computers on site share the data with other offsite computers via the web ..........CERN is also the place where 25 years ago this month, the world wide web was invented for just this reason ..more efficient sharing of information.
|Mural on the external wall at depecits the ATLAS detector and the real thing up close (its twice the size of the building)|
|The detector surrounding the blue collider tube.|
As we go to the first underground level feeling very important to have donned red hard hats and walk through narrow cable filled corridors we come to a viewing platform where we come head on with the detector straddling the blue Hadron Collider tube.
An occasional scientist is doing some maintenance work on the magnets and those human figures are completely dwarfed by this machinery which is 5 stories high and weighs as much as the Eiffel Tower. And yet as our physicst guide assures us, they know the insides of the cables and magnets of this gigantic contraption to the precision of a human hair !
By now my mind is spinning as fast as the protons in the Hadron Collider at witnessing the vastness of the forces of the universe re created under the city of Geneva ......
|The CERN dome|