The smallest thing that we can see with a light microscope is about 500 nano-meters. A typical atom is anywhere from 0.1 to 0.5 nano-meters in diameter. So we need an electron microscope to measure these atoms. The electron microscope was invented in 1931. Beams of electrons are focused on a sample. When they hit it, they are scattered, and this scattering is used to recreate an image. Then what about protons or neutrons? Or what about quarks? The quarks are the most fundamental building blocks of matter. So how did we find such small particles exist? The answer is a particle collider. A particle collider is a tool used to accelerate two beams of particles to collide since 1960s.
The largest machine built by man, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle accelerator occupying an enormous circular tunnel of 27 kilometres in circumference, ranging from 165 to 575 feet below ground. It was situated near Genoa, Switzerland. It is so large that over the course of its circumference crosses the border between France and Switzerland. That’s the giant collaboration going on between over 100 countries and 10,000 scientists. The tunnel itself was constructed between 1983 and 1988 to house another particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which operated until 2000, its replacement, the LHC, was approved in 1995, and was finally switched on in September 2008.
Working of the Large Hadron Collider
The LHC is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built and has designed to explore the limits of what physicists refer to as the standard Model, which deals with fundamental sub-atomic particles. There are two vacuum pipes are installed inside the tunnel which intersects in some places and 1,232 main magnets are connected to the pipe. For proper operation, the collider magnets need to be cooled to -271.3 °C. To attain this temperature, 120 tons of liquid helium is poured into the LHC. These powerful magnets can accelerate protons near the speed of light, so they can complete a circuit in less than 90 millionths of a second. Two beams operate in opposite directions around the ring. At four separate points the two beams cross, causing protons to smash into each other at enormous energies, with their destruction being witnessed by super-sensitive instruments. But it’s not that easy to do this experiment. Each beam consists of bunches of protons and most of the protons just miss each other and carry on around the ring and do they it again. Because, atoms are mostly empty space, so getting them to collide is incredibly difficult. It’s like colliding a needle into a needle, provided that the distance between them is 10 kilometres.
The aim of these collisions is to produce countless new particles that stimulate, on a micro scale, some of the conditions postulated in the Big Bang at the birth of the universe. Higgs Boson was discovered with the help of LHC. This so called ‘God Particle’ that could be responsible for the very existence of mass. If it disappeared, all particles in the universe will become absolutely weightless and fly around the universe in the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s). that means we can reach our moon in 1.3 seconds from earth.
“When you look at a vacuum in a quantum theory of fields, it isn’t exactly nothing.” – Peter Higgs