News & Media

Melt your Brain: CERN

Welcome to the weird world of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider!

What is CERN?

CERN is the European Council for Nuclear Research (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire).

CERN is basically a group of physicists looking for the answers to the big questions of the universe. These are what gives stuff its mass and what happened immediately after the Big Bang?

These scientists are so clever that one employee, Tim Berners-Lee, actually invented the World Wide Web at CERN whilst he was trying to find a way to communicate with the other scientists!

 

Large Hadron Collider

The main focus of CERN is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest machine in the world. Built over 30 years, it lies somewhere underground, spanning the French and Swiss border.

The LHC is over 27km long – that’s more than 300 football pitches! And it is over 175m underground, which is almost three times deeper than London Underground’s deepest station – Hampstead!

The collider uses super powerful electromagnets, so it needs to be -271.3 degrees C down there for it to work – which is colder than outer space!

 

The God Particle

CERN have been using the Large Hadron Collider to search for The Higgs Boson, nicknamed ‘The God Particle’. Scientists weren’t sure The God Particle even existed – Stephen Hawking warned that it couldn’t be discovered.

It is named after Peter Higgs who first thought of it as an elementary particle that gives stuff it’s mass. It did this by smashing atoms into each other at the fastest speed possible – they got up to 99.9% the speed of light.

On 14 March 2013, scientists at CERN confirmed that they found the particle. So, the prediction Peter Higgs had made in 1964, nearly 50 years earlier, was confirmed.

 

We still don’t know everything…

There are still lots of things we don’t know about the universe that CERN could help to answer, for example…. Dark Matter. Everything we can see and touch makes up less than 5% of what is out there. The rest of the 95%, rather scarily named Dark Matter and Dark Energy, remains a total mystery!

 

Controversy

One minor downside to the Large Hadron Collider was the small chance that turning the machine on would destroy planet Earth! It was thought that replicating the conditions just after the Big Bang could create a micro-black hole that would swallow the planet from within!

One group of scientists, led by German chemist Otto Rossler, was so concerned that they went as far as to lodge a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights. They claimed it would be a violation of our “right to life and right to private family life”!

So far, scientists at CERN haven’t yet caused the apocalypse – but in June 2016, there were mysterious clouds noted over CERN. Some headlines said that they had opened up a portal to other dimensions – but it turned out to be just a thunderstorm!