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Unlocking the secrets of the Universe
04/02/2011 06:17:00


Yesterday, I went on a House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee visit to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

For those who haven't heard of it, the Large Hadron Collider is the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It is a ring-shaped, 27 kilometre-long tunnel over 100 metres beneath the Swiss-French border. Beams of protons (tiny particles found in the nucleus of every atom) are accelerated in opposite directions until they are close to the speed of light and then crashed into each other. At high enough energies, these collisions are predicted to produce particles that existed in the moments after the Big Bang.

The engineering is incredible. Superconducting magnets, which have to be kept colder than outer space with liquid helium, refine the beams of protons until they are no wider than a human hair and ensure that they collide head on. Huge detectors then record over 30,000,000 collisions every second and instantly discard those that don't look interesting (don't have any signs of the new particles scientists are looking for). And scientists all over the world then analyse the remaining collisions.

After a difficult first year, scientists feel the collider and detectors are now working really well and are confident or a major discovery in the next year or two. This is our generation's equivalent of the moon landings - a huge multi-disciplinary effort with lots of spin-offs (among them the internet, which was invented at CERN) which will transform our understanding of the world we live in. It was a pleasure to see it first hand. If your school would like to visit, please get in touch.

UPDATE: Simon in the comments below has suggested I include some links so here is some info about the Large Hadron Collider, here is a publication produced by the Institute of Physics and about particle physics and here is a good site for kids.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 06/02/2011 10:50:00 Simon wrote:
How much more did you learn than you could have read from the internet (as you mentioned it!) or the piles of paper documentation that must have been collected on the subject in Parliament, Whitehall etc. over the years? I know that actually going and seeing a thing can help you "appreciate it more" but in these times of cost savings and unemployment has this trip benefited the UK in any real terms?

If this blog is meant to inspire then would it not have been worthwhile to include an internet link or two to help people to learn more about the LHC (a link to Wikipedia for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider#Purpose)?

Apologies for being negative but with the massive cuts and the tax increases it just seems that it is also time for a massive reduction of unnecessary trips by MPs (and councillors, while on the subject) but as I may be misjudging this trip I have phrased this comment as a question.

On 06/02/2011 11:13:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

No need to apologise. The Select Committee is doing an inquiry into astronomy and particle physics and you do learn more by going there in person and seeing it for yourself (and in particular by talking to the people leading the various experiments) but it's a fair point to make. I hope there will be a direct benefit to some of my constituents through me using the contacts I have made to organise some school trips out there for budding young scientists. I have added some links as you suggest.

On 07/02/2011 22:24:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
Hello Gavin. While you're doing science can you give BOINC a plug?

http://boinc.berkeley.edu/. Remember the LHC will create PETABYTES (thats a lot of bytes) of data so if your readers connect to BOINC they can help process the spare data in their computer downtime. There are many other computer research projects

one can offer to "help out with" and it's completely safe and secure.

By the way remember I believe that this might be your election competitor Mr Castle - he's found something more fun to do than be an MP it seems...http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/news/Family-s-pub-home-beats-smoking-ban/article-3177839-detail/article.html?cacheBust=y7f6DHWJ3Py7&success=true.

On 08/02/2011 08:45:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

I think you have just given them a plug!




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