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Physics set for monster revolution
2006 09 15


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Physics could be turned on its head by a monster machine that can make black holes and may provide the first real evidence that extra dimensions exist.

Scientists have no idea what they will find when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) starts smashing elementary particles together next year at energies never reached before.

One possibility is that it will create Higgs particles, which some theorists think may be involved in giving objects mass.

It might also verify Professor Stephen Hawking's theory that black holes "evaporate" over time, or produce mysterious "dark matter".

But physicists are most excited about the prospect of finding the "fingerprints" of other dimensions.

If that happened, it would lead to the biggest upheaval in physics since an apple bounced off Sir Isaac Newton's head and got him wondering about gravity.

Alternatives to the "Standard Model" that describes universe's particles and forces, such as String Theory, require more than the three familiar spatial dimensions of length, breadth and height. Some call for 11 or more dimensions, which may be tightly curled up and hidden from our world.

But these theories are founded on nothing but complex arithmetic. The LHC could provide the first solid evidence that one or more really do reflect the nature of reality.

Dr Brian Cox, from the University of Manchester, who will be working at the LHC in Geneva, said: "We've built a machine that operates beyond the energy where we really know what's happening. In the history of particle physics, there's never been such a jump. It could uncover some of the really big questions."

The circular-shaped LHC is the biggest machine ever built and cost in excess of 4.26 billion. Measuring 27km across, it sits 100m below the French-Swiss border. The machine has just one purpose, to collide beams of high energy protons and recreate conditions that existed less than a billionth of a second after the Big Bang at the dawn of creation.

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