Scientists celebrated this week when they successfully sent subatomic particles at a very high speed around a 17-mile underground tunnel in Geneva, Switzerland, called the Large Hadron Collider. The contraption might allow researchers to learn more about the creation of the universe.
Professor Brain Greene from Columbia University, host of PBS's Elegant Universe, explains how the particle collider uses magnets to accelerate the particles around the tunnel at "fantastically high speeds" and then smashes them into each other.
The project aims to recreate a scenario similar to the "Big Bang" theory of how the universe started. In short, the theory proposes that the universe is the ever-expanding result of an explosion that took place billions of years ago. A millionth-of-a-second after that explosion, similar particle collisions would have been commonplace, Greene says.
By recreating these collisions, scientists are hoping to discover mysterious dark matter or find new particles. And, although there is a possibility the experiment could create tiny black holes, Greene says that they would disappear in a fraction of a second and not suck in planet earth as some have worried.
"They will simply slam into each other. And when they do that, they don't merely pulverize themselves. They take the energy of impact, and allow that energy to retransform itself into other species of particles." - Brian Greene, Columbia University
"The energetic collisions that we are talking about would have been commonplace around roughly a millionth-of-a-second after the beginning, after the big-bang. So, roughly speaking, in a laboratory setting, we're trying to recreate, as close as we can, a little piece of the conditions that took place way back, just after the beginning of time." - Brian Greene, Columbia University
"You know, it is possible that the Large Hadron Collider will create black holes. And that may sound odd at first, because most of us, when we hear the phrase black hole, think a big, gargantuan thing in space that is very massive, exerts powerful gravity, and, as you said, kind of pulls things in. But, actually, black holes can be really tiny, too. As long as you crush enough matter and energy to a very small size, in principle, you can create a black hole." - Brian Greene, Columbia University
1. What is an atom? What is a sub-atomic particle?
2. Have you heard of the big bang theory? Can you explain it?
3. What is a black hole?
1. Why are scientists doing this?
2. What do you hope they see? Why?
3. Were you satisfied with Greene's answer about black holes? Are you concerned that new science experiments could be more trouble than they are worth, or do you think scientists mostly know what they are doing?
4. How does the public learn about the latest scientific discoveries? How much information should the general public have about scientific experiments? Should we know the details, or just the general goals?
5. Do you want to be a scientist? Why or why not? What kind of education do you think the scientists working on this project have?
6. What do you think about the Big Bang theory? What about the dark matter theory? Is it important for people to understand these theories? Why or why not?