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Seeing further out and further in with CERN - feature image, used as a supportive image and isn't important to understand article

CERN, located in Geneva, Switzerland, is a beacon of international collaboration with global institutions sending researchers to operate the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.

Dr Steven Goldfarb introduces the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, as a beacon of human achievement.

"Every single one of these wires and tubes was connected by a human being. We have a lot of human beings working on this and human beings who come from absolutely everywhere across our planet! So if someone tells you oh I don't think that humans can ever work together to do anything well they can!"

"It's actually in our charter, to work for peace, and so that's what we're doing and we love it. It's fantastic, we have people from all over the world who contribute here."

It's fitting that the 2022 NYSF Year 12 Program ('virtually') sends participants to tour the Large Hadron Collider at CERN! 

Dr Steven Goldfarb and Dr Muhammad Alhroob introduced us to the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. Standing about 50m apart (vertically), Dr Alhroob showed as a close up view of the Muon Spectrometer, while Dr Goldfarb pointed his camera at a top-view of the ATLAS detector.

The ATLAS experiment is one of four major experiments on the Large Hadron Collider. Dr Goldfarb pointed out where the Large Hadron Collider comes into their detector. Two circulating proton beams going in opposite directions around a 27km loop pass through each other to make collisions right in the centre of the detector. 

And bam! There's a collision every 25 nanoseconds! Charged particles that result from the collision get curved, and upon measuring how much they curve, researchers can calculate how fast they were going and what their energy is!

A short intro into quantum mechanics later, and we understood why they had to build something so large to look for the smallest things in the universe.

Dr Goldfarb points out that some of the best experiments in the world are at CERN, but the 'best experiment in the world' is the one he works on - ATLAS.

"ATLAS is general-purpose - we're like the most powerful lens on a microscope...trying to probe the inside of nature."

Dr Goldfarb and Dr Alhroob look at the particles that result from these high-energy proton collisions. What interacted? Did a couple of quarks interact, or was it gluons? The Higgs Boson can be produced when gluons interact!

"This guy named Heisenberg doesn't let us get in there [to see] it - we can never really see exactly what happens, but we can measure the stuff that comes out."

"Theorists live in the area where we're not allowed to go - where Heisenberg tells us we can't go - and they tell us what would have produced what we saw."

"There's a lot of really incredible work that's being done here in other accelerators or decelerators. There's even an anti-proton decelerator that is helping to produce antimatter so that we can study it. That's been in the news recently too because they were doing measurements to actually see whether anti-hydrogen will fall up or fall down. 

We think it will fall down (we don't think that gravity has a role here), but we don't know so we measure absolutely everything!"

NYSFers - who wants to go to CERN and figure that one out?

NYSFer Will had some in-depth questions about the experiments. Will asked about the purpose of CERN creating antimatter, given that it takes so much energy to create, and is so difficult to store. 

Dr Goldfarb started off as philosophical...

"That's what science is trying to measure - what you can't see - because the stuff that we could see, we measured"

"At some point we said, well you know I'd like to see further out and I'd like to see further in and so we developed telescopes and microscopes."

"You have to build these devices if you want to learn more. It turns out that learning about these things which you don't normally just see...teaches you a lot. It's taught us an enormous amount and that knowledge allows us to improve our lives."

...before coming back to antimatter. 

"The only way to study the difference between matter and antimatter is to have antimatter....we don't make so much antimatter. We can make 300 atoms, maybe maximum 1000 atoms, per run."

NYSFer Layla focussed on the potential for particle fusion - could the LHC be used to fuse particles?

Dr Alhroob took this one, and showed that in order to fuse protons and to make helium atoms, "we need much, much, much lower energy [than what they use in the LHC] otherwise the protons themselves will be smashed."

The LHC is designed so that the protons do get smashed, so another facility would take on the fusion challenge.

NYSFer Allanah asked Dr Goldfarb for some recommendations on where we could look to build knowledge and excitement about particle physics. 

Dr Goldfarb recommended:

  • "Knocking on Heaven's Door" - a book by Professor Lisa Randall who studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University,
  • Particle Fever  - a documentary that gives an insider account of the world's biggest, most expensive scientific experiment.

Thank you to Dr Steven Goldfarb and Dr Muhammad Alhroob for opening up our universe.


The 2022 NYSF Year 12 Program Live Cross to CERN was proudly supported by the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer

Seeing further out and further in with CERN - content image