Big Bang test shows the power of teamwork

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 April, 2010, 12:00am

The Large Hadron Collider is the world's biggest machine, built to detect the smallest subatomic particles. On Tuesday, the super-collider, located near Geneva, made history when it recreated in miniature the conditions just after the birth of the universe. In the end, it did not create a black hole that sucked in the entire world, as some conspiracy-minded critics had feared.

More people followed that first experiment on a live webcast and Twitter than those tracking the revelation that singer Ricky Martin is gay. Tabloid editors who think salacious gossip always trumps serious news should think again. Enough people around the world thought a high-energy physics experiment - designed to answer the deepest questions about the universe and our place in it - more interesting than the confused sexuality of a former pop star.

After a 16-month delay because of a massive accident, scientists and engineers at Cern, the high-energy physics laboratory, smashed together two opposing beams of protons travelling almost at the speed of light to recreate events a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Thousands of top physicists will spend years analysing data streaming out of the machine in the coming months. They will seek fundamental answers such as whether quarks inside protons and neutrons can be freed, why these particles are so much heavier than quarks, and whether the Higgs boson, a hypothetical elementary particle which has been dubbed the God particle, exists. Confirmation of its existence would explain the origin of mass and complete the so-called standard model in elementary particle physics. That would be a giant leap towards finding what Stephen Hawkings has popularised as the Theory of Everything.

More than 20 countries have invested in building the collider. Thousands of scientists and engineers from more than 40 countries are involved. Whatever the outcome, it is a shining example of what humankind can achieve when countries set aside their differences and combine their best resources and talents to tackle the deep mystery of matter in the universe.