Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Big Bang Redux?

Tomorrow, scientists in Geneva will fire up the Large Hadron Collider. In a 17-mile tunnel that is 300 feet below the earth, subatomic particles will be collided to break them down into even smaller subatomic particles. This has been done for years inside smaller machines, with fascinating results. Protons and neutrons, which were previously thought to be the smallest possible particles of matter, were found to break down into even smaller particles.

According to Alexander Higgins of the Associated Press in yesterday's newspaper:
"We create mini Big Bangs by bumping two nuclei into each other. This releases an enormous amount of energy that liberates thousands of quarks and gluons normally imprisoned inside the nucleus. Quarks and gluons then form a kind of a thick soup that we call the quark-gluon plasma. The soup cools quickly and the quarks and gluons stick together to form protons and neutrons, the building blocks of matter."

I am a layperson, not a scientist. But I became interested in this phenomenon when I lived near Chicago, where Fermilab is located. At Fermilab they have been colliding subatomic particles for years on a smaller scale. When my dad came to visit, we took a tour of Fermilab. That visit fired up an interest in me. I read a book called "The God Particle". It was written by Leon Lederman, who at that time was director of Fermilab. This book opened up the world of physics to me. If you want to learn more about subatomic physics this book is a great place to begin.

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