Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles

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9780470643914: Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles

An accessible look at the hottest topic in physics and the experiments that will transform our understanding of the universe

The biggest news in science today is the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle-smasher, and the anticipation of finally discovering the Higgs boson particle. But what is the Higgs boson and why is it often referred to as the God Particle? Why are the Higgs and the LHC so important? Getting a handle on the science behind the LHC can be difficult for anyone without an advanced degree in particle physics, but you don't need to go back to school to learn about it. In Collider, award-winning physicist Paul Halpern provides you with the tools you need to understand what the LHC is and what it hopes to discover.

  • Comprehensive, accessible guide to the theory, history, and science behind experimental high-energy physics
  • Explains why particle physics could well be on the verge of some of its greatest breakthroughs, changing what we think we know about quarks, string theory, dark matter, dark energy, and the fundamentals of modern physics
  • Tells you why the theoretical Higgs boson is often referred to as the God particle and how its discovery could change our understanding of the universe
  • Clearly explains why fears that the LHC could create a miniature black hole that could swallow up the Earth amount to a tempest in a very tiny teapot
  • ""Best of 2009 Sci-Tech Books (Physics)""-Library Journal
  • ""Halpern makes the search for mysterious particles pertinent and exciting by explaining clearly what we don't know about the universe, and offering a hopeful outlook for future research.""-Publishers Weekly
  • Includes a new author preface, ""The Fate of the Large Hadron Collider and the Future of High-Energy Physics""

The world will not come to an end any time soon, but we may learn a lot more about it in the blink of an eye. Read Collider and find out what, when, and how.

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Review:

Top Ten Ways the Large Hadron Collider Could Revolutionize the World of Science
Content from Paul Halpern

1. Solve the riddle of dark matter: the elusive invisible substance that helps steer the outer stars of galaxies and bind galaxies into clusters. The LHC could produce particles massive enough to explain this mystery.

2. Complete the puzzle of the Standard Model: the theory uniting two of the four known forces of nature, electromagnetism and the weak interaction. Based on what turns up in the LHC decay products, this model could be confirmed or need to be modified.

3. Identify the God Particle: more formally known as the Higgs boson. The Higgs is part of a mechanism that explains how the particles that make up matter acquired mass in the early universe, while photons, the carriers of light, remained massless. The mass of the Higgs, if it were found, would help indicate whether the Standard Model is fine as it stands or requires adjustment.

4. Reproduce some of the intense conditions of the Big Bang: the fiery, highly-compact state of the primordial cosmos. One of the specialized detectors at the LHC, called ALICE, will study quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed in the first microseconds of the universe. At that point its temperature was so high that the quarks and gluons that would later form elementary particles such as protons and neutrons were free to move.

5. Explain the universe’s shortage of antimatter: the oppositely-charged counterparts of electrons, protons and other particles. The LHCb, another specialized detector at the LHC, is designed to look for imbalances in certain types of decays that could elucidate how the balance of a harmonious early state of the universe came to tilt in the direction of far more matter than antimatter.

6. Generate miniature black holes: hypothetical incredibly dense states of matter analogous to some of the intense gravitational conditions of the collapsed cores of massive stars. No worries, however; these would decay almost immediately into various particles before presenting even the slimmest chance of harming the Earth.

7. Reveal gateways to higher dimensions: unseen paths beyond ordinary space and time. Certain theories justify why gravity is so much weaker than the other natural forces by positing that gravity particles leak into an extra dimension that ordinary matter and light cannot penetrate. Investigators at the LHC will search for evidence of such invisible channels.

8. Unify matter and forces through supersymmetry: a hypothesis asserting that each matter particle has a counterpart in the world of forces, and each force carrier, a companion in the realm of matter. The LHC will search for the least massive superpartners of conventional particles. The verification of supersymmetry would be an extraordinarily important step toward a theory of everything.

9. Predict the ultimate fate of the cosmos: Recent astronomical discoveries have indicated that space is accelerating in its expansion. The nature of any massive particles found at the LHC could help scientists unravel the properties of this dark energy and thereby determine what will ultimately happen to the universe.

10. Inspire new generations: to pursue careers in physics and carry on the search for the ultimate theory of nature. The shining example of discoveries at the LHC would illuminate a path for future scientists to follow.

Browse Photos of the Collider (Click on image to enlarge)


A corner of the Proton Synchrotron device with its bending magnets. Built in the late 1950s, it has since been used for a variety of purposes and now serves as an early stage of the injector system to accelerate protons and ions before they reach the main ring of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Paul Halpern standing on the grounds of CERN in Switzerland. In the right background is the Globe of Science and Innovation, built in 2002 as a symbol of our planet. In the far left background are the Jura Mountains in France. The 17 mile main ring of the LHC lies deep beneath the verdant countryside between the mountains and CERN.

The Linac (linear accelerator) at CERN is another component of the system for accelerating protons and ions before they reach the main ring of the LHC.

A sample cross-section of a beam pipe through which particles travel.

From the Inside Flap:

Will the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) create a miniature black hole that could swallow up the Earth? Could it help explain the missing matter and energy in the universe? Will it point the way toward unifying the forces of nature? Might it reveal the God particle? Collider goes beyond explaining the mysteries of quantum mechanics and Einstein's theories to sort through a century of actual experiments, revealing how we know what we know, and what we hope to find out.

In this comprehensive guide to the theory, mechanics, and science behind experimental high-energy physics, award-winning physicist and celebrated author Paul Halpern gives you the tools you need to understand what the LHC is, what it hopes to discover, and why it is the biggest story in science today. You'll discover how the scientists running the project expect to shed light on the origins of the universe by recreating the conditions that existed just after the Big Bang and why that isn't nearly as scary as it sounds.

Halpern starts you off with a crash course in the essentials of physics. With clear explanations of the Standard Model, the four forces that govern the universe (weak, strong, gravity, and electromagnetism), and the vast array of particles already discovered using colliders, he helps you understand why scientists might be on the verge of confirming or disproving some of the predictions of string theory and how the LHC could help unlock the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy, supersymmetry, and portals to higher dimensions. You'll also find out why the theoretical Higgs boson is often referred to as the God particle and how its discovery could change our understanding of the universe.

No aspect of the LHC has received more attention than the fact that one side effect of the collision of particles at ultra-high speed is the creation of mini–black holes. Press coverage has focused heavily on fears that these superdense particles would start gobbling up everything around them and eventually swallow the entire Earth. Halpern provides a clear and detailed explanation of why these fears, and the storm of publicity that has spread them, amount to a tempest in a very tiny teapot.

So, relax! The world will not come to an end any time soon, but we may learn a lot more about it in the blink of an eye. Read Collider and find out what, when, and how.

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