Mass detection

Scientists claim to be one step closer to resolving some important unanswered questions about Newton’s description of gravity with recent construction on the Large Hadron Collider.

The LHC is expected to be the world’s largest and highest energy particle accelerator and collider when it becomes operational in November.

It is being built at CERN near Geneva, by a worldwide collaboration of more than 2,000 physicists, including UK scientists from the University of Bristol, Imperial College London, Brunel University and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Experiments at the LHC will allow physicists to complete a journey that started with Newton’s description of gravity. This acts on mass, but so far science has been unable to explain why the fundamental particles have the masses they do.

This could be answered by experiments such as Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) one of two large particle physics detectors being built on the LHC. The heaviest piece of the detector was recently lowered 100m underground into the experimental cavern at Geneva.

The giant element measures 16m high x 17m wide x 13m long, and marks the halfway point in the lowering process. The first seven of 15 pieces have already been lowered, and the last piece is scheduled to make its descent this summer.

In addition to filling gaps in Newton’s description of gravity, the LHC experiments will also probe the mysterious missing mass and dark energy of the universe. Visible matter seems to account for just four per cent of what must exist. The scientists will investigate the reason for nature’s preference for matter over antimatter, and will probe matter as it existed at the very beginning of time.

‘This is a very exciting time for physics,’ said CMS spokesman Jim Virdee from Imperial College. ‘The LHC is poised to take us to a new level of understanding of our Universe.