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The Large Hadron Collider

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m awed by what results will emerge from the experiments at the LHC. Will they vindicate current physical theory or will they debunk them? (Or perhaps a mix of the two?) You probably read this a 100 times but I’ll just recount what I’m eager to learn from the experimentalists at the LHC in the coming months or year (as energies are turned up).

Is supersymmetry a fact of nature? Supersymmetry is a theory (or theories in fact) that basically says that to each elementary particle (like electron, photon, proton, etc) there is a ‘superpartner’ particle, called a sparticle or superparticle. So far no such particle has been detected. So for example an electron would have a ‘partner’ particle of the same mass but different spin. It’s a duality between fermions (like electrons and protons) and bosons (like photons, mesons, etc). It’s like we’re in a world that only sees husbands but the wives are all invisible. 🙂 Do particles have wives?

Dark matter if it exists, would be made up largely of such superparticles (and neutrinos, and we know neutrinos exist). So dark matter would be in trouble if no superparticles are found in the LHC experiments.

The other particle is the Higgs boson. You can call it the ‘mass’ particle because according to theory it is the particle that explains, or accounts for, why there is such a thing as mass. Quite early in the Big Bang, there was only energy and no matter. Then matter took form and so acquired mass. Did this happen via the Higgs boson? Yes or no? The LHC should reach high energies that will enable us to settle this question one way or the other.

In string theory there are the 4 dimensions of spacetime (x, y, z, t) plus 6 more dimensions that are so tiny and curled up. Will the LHC shed light on whether such dimensions exist? The expectation is that it ought to.

Since the LHC will attain very high energies (close to 7 or more TeV) comparable to those that existed during the Big Bang, will we be able to see physical evidence of a merging between the forces of electromagnetism, and the two nuclear forces (given that we tend to believe that they all arose from one force)? That would be fascinating to know.

Will the LHC help us understand gravity better? Potentially it could. Physicists believe that gravity and the other three forces really were one force at the Big Bang, but which fragmented into different forms as temperatures ‘cooled’.

Many other fascinating questions could be answered by this giant experiment, but we will have to wait and see the extent to which the LHC can answer them.

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