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NOVA scienceNOW: CERN

Program Overview


The world's largest particle accelerator, slated to go online in 2008, will attempt to create particles that have never been seen before by colliding protons together at near the speed of light. Such a discovery would help physicists better understand the basic building blocks of matter and answer key questions in the field of particle physics.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • introduces the European Council for Nuclear Research's particle accelerator, the world's largest and most powerful. The name CERN is an acronym derived from the French name for the council—Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire.

  • explains that CERN's particle accelerator uses powerful magnets to accelerate protons around a 16-mile-long track. Each time round, the protons get a little push from the magnetic field, which accelerates them, until eventually they are traveling at nearly the speed of light.

  • describes how new particles can be made by causing two beams of protons to collide. The collision's energy is forceful enough to break protons into more fundamental particles.

  • shows how an array of detectors measures the tracks of particles resulting from such collisions. By analyzing these tracks, scientists can tell if a collision created a new particle.

  • states that scientists have already discovered a number of subatomic particles, which are the basis of the Standard Model—a theoretical model that gives us the best picture of what matter is made of.

  • affirms that the Standard Model is incomplete and that scientists hope the CERN experiments will reveal new particles and yield new insights into subatomic structure.

  • details the challenge of processing the data generated by the 400 million proton collisions that will occur each second. After operating for a year, these data will total 10 times the amount of data that is currently stored on the World Wide Web.

  • discusses a key question scientists hope to solve: why so many particles have mass, since, according to physicists, mass is not something that is predicted by theory.

  • presents the leading idea for explaining mass—the Higgs field—a field pervading all of space that fundamental particles interact with to gain their mass.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

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NOVA scienceNOW: CERN
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