Large Hadron Collider

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Map of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's biggest and most powerful particle accelerator. It cost 10.4 billion Swiss francs ($10 billion) to build.[1] It's a machine used to shoot very small particles into each other at high speeds. When the particles hit each other, their energy is converted into many different particles, and sensitive detectors keep track of the pieces that are created. By looking carefully at the detector data, scientists can study what the particles are made of and how the particles interact. This is the only way to see some particles because very high energy is needed to create them. The LHC's particle collisions have the energy needed.[2]

The LHC starts with hydrogen atoms, and ionizes the atoms' electrons so that only protons are left. Protons are parts of atoms with a positive charge. The LHC accelerates these protons through a giant super conducted circular tunnel 17 miles (27 kilometers) long.[2] The protons are moved around the Large Hadron Collider at very high speeds by giant supercooled electromagnets. These magnets have to be very cold to work and they are cooled by liquid helium. The protons hit one another at close to the speed of light and convert to energy using E=mc2. It then reverses and creates mass.

The Large Hadron Collider is built underground at CERN, which is in Switzerland, but the LHC is so big that part of it goes underneath France. It is between 50 and 175 metres below the ground.[2] Scientists have recently used it to find the Higgs Boson, the last particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model. Its discovery helps scientists show that the Standard Model is right and show what the universe is made of.

Some people think the LHC would create a black hole, which would be very dangerous. There are two reasons not to be worried. The first is that the LHC won't do anything that the cosmic rays that hit the Earth every day don't do, and these rays do not create black holes. The second reason is that even if the LHC did make black holes, they would be very tiny. The smaller a black hole is, the shorter its life. Very tiny black holes would die and turn into energy before they could hurt people.[3]

The LHC was first used on September 10, 2008, but it did not work because a cooling system broke, which was important for the magnets that help to move the charged particles. This caused part of the facility to collapse. The winter shutdown meant that it was not used again until November 2009. While it was being repaired, scientists used the Tevatron to try and find the Higgs Boson. When the LHC was restarted in November 2009, it set a new speed record by accelerating protons to 1.18 TeV (teraelectronvolt, or trillion electronvolt).[1] On March 30 2010, the LHC created a collison at 3.5 TeV.[2]

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