Large Hadron Collider

Akash Kumar

The world's largest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, forms a 17-mile-long (27 kilometers) ring under the French-Swiss border.
The large Hadron Collider , 27 kilometers long ring under the French-Swiss border.
 (Image credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN)


LHC stands for the large hadron collider. The meaning hides in its name. Hadron means smallest subatomic particles held together by electromagnetic force and collider means the system which is made to cause a collision. The project started in 1998 and went live in 2008. It was initiated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and then more than 10000 scientists from different universities came together to work on this project.  It is situated in a tunnel 27 kilometers in circumference and buried 175 meters beneath the France Switzerland border near Geneva.


At the beginning of the universe, there was an explosion that we know as the Big bang when all matter was created. A big ball of energy though as time passed and the universe expanded the energy kept getting dissipating. We, humans, live 14 billion years after that explosion. Our sun was formed 9 billion years ago. Though the large hadron collider can look further beyond time. The time when there existed just those fundamental particles. The time just a millisecond after the big bang, when the density of the universe was so high. This will help us understand more about our origin. It helps us answer some questions that have been bothering physicists for a long time and help us get a clearer understanding of space nature, dark matter, supersymmetry, quark-gluon plasma, gravity, and time.

Large Hadron Collider,LHC,Magnet,Dipole,Superconducting,Interconnection,Tunnel
Two LHC magnets are seen before they are connected together. The blue cylinders contain the magnetic yoke and coil of the dipole magnets together with the liquid helium system required to cool the magnet so that it becomes superconducting. Eventually this connection will be welded together so that the beams are contained within the beam pipes. (Image: CERN)


Particulates in science cannot travel quicker than light, though humans have achieved the feat of going 99.99% near the speed of light with the help of a large hadron collider. The fastest object humans have ever made was Helios 2 probe and it was made to study Sun. It traveled at a speed of 157,078 mph. This may sound fast but light travels with a speed of 670,616,629 miles/hour. So, to achieve a speed close to light we turn to protons.

They are accelerated to the speed of light by the biggest machine ever built the large hadron collider. The key to move protons is the property of charges. Like charges repel each other, while opposite attract. To make protons travel fast this is the basic concept that is used.

Although there is much going around, the process can be broken down into 6 basic parts

  • Ionization of hydrogen

At first hydrogen atoms are pumped into a linear particle accelerator CERN LINAC 2. This machine repels electrons out of the shells from these hydrogen atoms. And all that is left out is the Hydrogen nucleus. And since hydrogen does not have neutrons in its nucleus. We are left with protons.

  • Accelerating protons

Once we get protons, these positively charged particles are accelerated using an electric field. The journey of protons going near the speed of light begins right here. At the end of this process, protons achieve 1/3 the speed of light.

  • Boosters

Although one-third of the speed of light is achieved it is not enough for our experiment. So, to travel faster. Four separated chambers equipped with high-intensity electric and magnetic fields at right angles. As protons enter these chambers, these magnetic and electric field exerts a tangential force on them, making them revolve around circles gaining more and more speed till they are near 91% the speed of light.

  • Proton synchronizers

Protons in boosters travel so that they can be recombined into one single packet. And when that happens this packet is sent into a ring having a circumference of 628 meters called a Proton synchronizer. Here the rest of the magic happens. With more powerful electromagnets these recombined packets revolve around in a circle gaining more speed.

Once they achieve a speed of 99.99% near the speed of light, they can’t go any faster. So, the momentum they gain after that gets changed into an increase in weight. You can easily deduce this relation using Einstein’s theory of relativity.

  • Super Proton synchronizers

This again is a ring though much bigger in size than the previous one. It has a circumference of 7km. The main function of this ring is to provide energy to the packet of protons so that they are ready for the next step.

  • Large hadron collider

LHC is a huge circular ring having a circumference of 27 kilometres having several superconducting magnets to accelerate particles for the Collison. It has two Vacuum tubes, in which two packets of recombined protons are transferred, one to revolve clockwise and another anticlockwise. The basic function of LHC is to capture the collision of these particles using the setup it has. There is a Digital camera located at four detector caverns, where these particles collide. 

The CERN accelerator complex (Image: CERN)

Principles behind its working:

So now that we know how does it work? You might be wondering what are the principles that it is based on.

While it comprises several concepts. The important one is E=MC2, Einstein theory of relativity.

To understand it better we look at this picture. Two protons traveling near the speed of light which we saw in the working of LHC. Since they can’t go with any further speed and the energy does remain constant. So to maintain this equation mass of the proton increases.  

If you look at the formula, you will see that even a small mass can produce a large amount of energy. But if you look at the formula again, you will see a large amount of energy is required to produce a small mass.

This is what happens in LHC two heavy protons, having a lot of energy collide. And when this collision happens a huge amount of energy is released. By the E=mc2 formula, we know now that with this amount of energy some of will get converted to mass. For the analysis of these masses, LHC was made precisely.

How significant is this mass?

There is a fundamental relation between everything that there is a universe. How properties of the smallest things in the world, the particles of the quantum world match up with large objects in the world. Any way everything can be concluded? How gravity affects these things differently? Can everything be connected to one theory? What does string theory imply?

We understand the parts of physics independently well. Though when we try to combine them with mathematics our system starts failing, we just couldn’t find the missing link that can connect these parts.

There comes the LHC. When protons collide, new mass is produced it the particles are similar to that when the big bang happened. We record the data when we find new particles and check out their properties. Higgs boson is just one of those particles we discovered.  Do come back to read about it in our next article of this series.



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