The “discovery machine” may be half a world away, but Isabel Trigger and her Canadian colleagues are hard-wired into what is perhaps the most ambitious and audacious experiment ever.
The $6-billion endeavour aims to recreate the searing conditions last seen billions of years ago just after the Big Bang.
The scientists took a big step closer to the goal Friday as the last piece a cathedral-sized detector called ATLAS, which Canadian researchers helped design and build, was lowered into the underground cavern in Switzerland.
“We got it all in there in time,” says physicist Ms. Trigger, who works with the giant detector remotely from the TRIUMF national physics lab tucked in the woods at the edge of the University of B.C.
The nail biting now begins as the physics world ramps up towards the first experiments, slated to begin later this year.
“This is the biggest, most complex science project ever undertaken,” says Nigel Lockyer, director of TRIUMF, noting the project is unprecedented in almost every way — ambition, size and global reach. “It’s pretty mind boggling, even for scientists,” he says.
Thousands of scientists from around the world are involved and a network of “computing farms,” including one humming away at a new processing centre at TRIUMF, are needed just to house the massive amounts of data that will flood out of the small-scale re-enactment Big Bang.
The action will take place 100 metres underground in a 27-kilometre tunnel that houses the Large Hadron Collider that runs in a circle from Switzerland to neighbouring France and back again. It is the largest particle accelerator ever built, and will collide proton beams at energies not seen since the milliseconds after the Big Bang, which lay the foundations for the universe.
Two enormous detectors — ATLAS and another known as CMS, short for Compact Muon Solenoid detector — will record everything that happens when the beams smash into each other. Physicists estimate they’ll be up to 40 million particle collisions a second. They will spend years combing through the wreckage looking for insight into the secrets of the universe.
They hope to clarify how the energy of the Big Bang was transformed into mass and matter. They will try to uncover new dimensions of space, probe mysterious dark energy and dark matter and perhaps even create the first humanmade black holes.
“We really feel as if we’re on the verge of discovering the next whole layer of how the universe works,” says Ms. Trigger, physics co-ordinator for ATLAS-Canada, the group of more than 100 Canadian scientists working with the detector.
Canada has invested close to $100 million in hardware and brain power for the overall project, which is expected to run for 20 years.
Powerful “kicker” magnets manufactured in Québec will help rev up the proton beams in the collider; key pieces of ATLAS, which contains 1.2 million particle detectors, were designed by Canadians; and the $24-million computing centre at TRIUMF is hard-wired to ATLAS by world’s fastest network — a system that uses a dedicated ultra-high speed fibre optics cable that runs under the Atlantic Ocean.
The “computing farm,” as its manager Reda Tafirout describes it, is one of 10 processing centres that will handle the deluge of data generated by the collisions inside ATLAS — about 15 million gigabytes a year, or the equivalent of a stack of DVDs three kilometres high.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 1, 2008 article by Margaret Munro via CanWest News