Scientists start analyzing Large Hadron Collider data

After more than a year of starts and stops, data rolls out of the Big Bang machine

After billions of dollars were spent to build, start, shut down and then fix and re-start the Large Hadron Collider , the system has finally produced enough data for some long-awaited scientific analysis.

Scientists around the world are starting to analyze what an Iowa State University professor calls "beautiful" data. The experts are looking for noteworthy particle collisions, along with the paths, energies, and identities of the particles created when protons or lead ions collide at unprecedented energies.

"The data look just beautiful," says Soeren Prell, an ISU associate professor of physics and astronomy, in a statement.

Physicists are hoping the influx of data from the Large Hadron Collider will help them solve questions about matter, antimatter, black holes, dark energy and extra dimensions.

The collider, which struggled through a year of technical problems , bad publicity and staggered momentum, was back on its feet last November. Upon its return. the world's largest atom smasher set a record and became the world's most powerful matter-rending machine when it accelerated its twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 teraelectronvolts (TeV).

The collider, housed in a facility located on the border of Switzerland and France, broke the acceleration record just 10 days after coming back online. It had been offline since the fall of 2008.

After the November project, physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that oversees the collider, shut down the collider on Dec. 16 to prepare for bigger collisions now slated to begin in February.

The Large Hadron Collider, which had been under construction since the late 1980s, shot its first beam of protons around a 17-mile, vacuum-sealed loop in September of 2008. The test run was a forebear to the time when scientists will accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9% of the speed of light.

Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should re-create conditions in the universe just moments after its conception. By using this machine and simulating the moments after the Big Bang, scientists from around the world are hoping to find answers to a question that has haunted mankind for centuries: How was the universe created?

However, shortly after the collider's first test run in 2008, a faulty electrical connection knocked it offline for what was initially expected to be six months. A few months later, CERN officials told Computerworld that the problems were going to be more extensive and would take longer to fix. At that point the price tag for the repairs had reached $21 million .

The collider, which has been called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind," was built to explore the Big Bang theory, which holds that more than 13 billion years ago, an amazingly dense object the size of a coin expanded into the universe that we know now.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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