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A physicists' playground powers up

By Peter N. Spotts, / May 5, 2008



This summer, the most elaborate physics laboratory on earth will come to life. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) recently completed its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a 16.7-mile ring of magnets that loops deep beneath the Swiss-French border.

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The cavernous $6 billion lab hosts a massive particle accelerator. Researchers will fire beams of protons in opposite directions around the track. Then, once the particles near the speed of light, magnets will slam the protons together, creating new types of particles. Researchers hope this collision will recreate the conditions that existed when the universe was a trillionth of a second old. One key objective: hunting down the particle that physicists theorize gives matter its mass – and maybe stumbling upon new discoveries along the way. More information and pictures of the LHC appear in the May/June issue of Technology Review.