Scientists Gear Up for 'Mini Big Bangs' at LHC

Press Release From: Science and Technology Facilities Council
Posted: Wednesday, November 3, 2010

UK scientists working on CERN's Large Hadron Collider's (LHC's) in Switzerland are gearing up to study a piece of the Universe as it would have been just moments after the Big Bang. The LHC's ALICE experiment, with UK work funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), will later this week study the result of accelerating and smashing together lead nuclei at the highest possible energies, generating incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs to recreate the fundamental particles that existed in the first few microseconds after the Big Bang.

Physicists from the University of Birmingham are playing a key role in this new phase of the LHC's programme which comes after seven months of successfully colliding protons at high energies.

"We will be creating the highest temperatures and densities ever produced in an experiment in these mini Big Bangs", said Dr. David Evans from the University of Birmingham. "Although the tiny fireballs will only exist for a fleeting moment (less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) the temperatures will reach over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the center of the Sun."

"This will allow us to make and study a tiny piece of what the universe was made of just a millionth of a second after the Big Bang", Dr. Evans added. "At the temperatures generated even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, will melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a Quark-Gluon Plasma. By studying this quark-gluon plasma, physicists hope to learn more about the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, which not only binds the nuclei of atoms together but is responsible for 98% of their mass. We are all really looking forward to these first collisions which will be created in a safe, controlled environment. If all goes well, we could even see some new discoveries before the end of next year."

The 10,000 ton ALICE experiment has been specifically designed to study the extreme conditions produced in these lead collisions. ALICE is one of the four main experiments at the LHC designed to study the physics from ultra-high energy proton-proton and lead-lead interactions.

Whilst the conditions created in the LHC detector will be a world record for manmade experiments and represent a great achievement for science and engineering, they pose no threat. More energetic particle reactions occur regularly throughout the Universe, including in the upper atmosphere of the Earth itself.

Bekky Stredwick
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Press Office
+44 (0)1235 445777; cell: +44 (0)7825 861436

Dr. David Evans
University of Birmingham
+44 (0)798 040 6171

Images and Animation:

Credit: CERN

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The ALICE Experiment

Physicists working on the ALICE experiment will study the properties, still largely unknown, of the state of matter called a quark-gluon plasma. This will help them understand more about the strong force and how it governs matter; the nature of the confinement of quarks -- why quarks are confined in matter, such as protons; and how the strong force generates 98% of the mass of protons and neutrons.

The collisions will be recreated in a safe, controlled environment. Although the LHC is by far the most powerful man-made particle accelerator ever built, there are much more powerful, naturally occurring particle accelerators in the universe. Cosmic rays in our atmosphere produce much higher energy collisions and have been doing so since long before mankind existed.

The ALICE Collaboration consists of around 1000 physicists and engineers from about 90 institutes in 30 countries. The UK forms a relatively small part of ALICE, consisting of eight physicists and engineers and seven PhD students from the University of Birmingham, but plays a vital role being responsible for the design and construction of the central trigger electronics (the ALICE Brain) and corresponding software. In addition, the UK group is making an important contribution to the analysis of ALICE data.

ALICE utilizes state-of-the-art technology including high precision systems for the detection and tracking of subatomic particles, ultra-miniaturized systems for the processing of electronic signals, and a worldwide distribution network of the computing resources for data analysis (the GRID). Many of these technological developments have direct implications to everyday life such as medical imaging, microelectronics and information technology.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (http:// ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.

The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

- The Rutherford Appleto- Laboratory, Oxfordshire
- The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
- The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Chile, and in the UK LOFAR and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

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