This week the Hadron Collider exhibition comes to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry
So what is it all about, did they find the God particle and what is the connection with Manchester.About Manchester spoke to Professor Jeff forshaw at the University of Manchester.
The city has always taken a leading role in particle physics after all it was in Manchester that Rutherford first split the atom and now on the sixth floor of the Schuster building on Brunswick Street are a team of particle physistics working alongside the CERN project.
One of those is Professor Forshaw, Originating from Wigan and now living in Didsbury, he has visited CERN many times and now professes to spending his time trying to figure out what the data from the world’s particle physics experiments is telling us about the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions with each other.
At the centre of this is the CERN project, and the large Hadron Collider which is the world’s largest particle accelerator buried in a tunnel 100 metres below ground, between Lake Geneva in Switzerland and the Jura mountains in France, twenty seven kilometres in circumference.
So what is actually going on there.Jeff explains that what we are going is the equivalent of building big microscopes intended to zoom in on the atom nucleus, with the Hadron collider literally bashing particles together at high speed, the higher the energy, the greater the magnification.
The highlight so far has been the confirmation that the Higgs Bosom particle exists, a term that has entered into popular culture.in essence it explains why the building blocks of the universe have mass.They do not zip around at the speed of light, which according to Einstein would mean that they have no mass.Instead mass is very important, it shapes the world in which we life.Without it there would be no gravity and atoms works not exist.
Before Peter Higgs in the 1960’s came up with his theory, science simply said that mass was there but couldn’t explain why.Higgs propose that empty space is not in fact empty but in Jeff’s words ” rammed full of particles”
“We are living in it, this treacle of Higgs Particles, without knowing that it is there….Mass comes about as particles move though this empty space and bounce off the Higgs particle and zigzag their way through, in essence being slowed down.”
Higgs proposed that you could make these particles and that is what has happened under the ground in Switzerland.
“We are”adds Jeff, “right at the forefront of fundamental research at the moment and I have no idea of the potential of this discovery but furthering our understanding of the world in which we live in has always enhanced mankind’s progress.
CERN has already contributed one massive jump for progress in the World Wide Web coming from Tim Berners Lee, as well as the development if high magnetic fields and the dealing with huge amounts of data from the experiments.
CERN is currently shut down so that it can be upgraded to produce even higher energies, it opens again next year and the first priority for the team will be to clarify that the Higgs particle is behaving exactly as its theory suggested.
“At the moment we have identified a cow in a field but we need to know what sort of cow it is
The higher energy from the upgrade will allow greater magnification of the atom and one theory suggests that dark matter may be able to be produced.Dark matter is what it says on the tin, it exists almost certainly, the evidence for it is almost one hundred per cent but because it is dark, ie it does not emit light, we cannot at the moment see it.
The collider exhibition will give a sense to the public of the excitement of being involved at CERN. It is says Professor Forshaw, the pinnacle of civilisation at the moment, an across the world enterprise which ignores political and racial boundaries.
For the world to be focused on looking at what it is made of should surely be part of our cultural legacy long into the future.It is one of the great things that civilisation has achieved
Now a piece of CERN has come to Manchester and visitors to the exhibition at MOSI will be entering the auditorium on the day that the Higgs Bosom particle was discovered and will be given a flavour of what the scientists were doing at the time.Voices of those who built it will explain the different types of equipment being used and the visitor will get an idea of what it is like to actually stand in a part of the accelerator itself
But back finally to the Higgs Bosom.Calling it the God particle he says is pure hype but does the work at CERN mean that there is or there isn’t a God.Jeff himself says he is agnostic.There are two ways in which exploring the universe and its origins could be taken.In one the very fact that our universe is structured with universal rules could suggest that a higher being may have set those rules.There may be just the one universe in which we exist because the rules allow us to, or they may be replicated, many being born in a quantum flash before existing for nano seconds only before being extinguished by their own set of rules.
We shall, says Jeff, almost certainly never know the answer to that one