Large Hadron Collider: A Glossary

. 9/11/08

Large Hadron Collider : How it works - A video

The "Big Bang" experiment at the Cern laboratory in Switzerland has made us all suddenly aware of such terms as hadron, Higgs boson and quark, but what do they all mean? Here we present a glossary to the greatest experiment in history.

Antimatter - the opposite of matter, antimatter is thought to have existed in equal quantities to matter at the beginning of the universe, yet little antimatter now exists. One of the Large Hadron Collider's experiments is to find out why.

Atom - the particles of which everything around us is made. They, in turn, are made of electrons and a nucleus containing protons and neutrons.

Absolute zero - the lowest possible temperature, at -273ºC. It cannot be created artificially, but the LHC operates at -271ºC, just two degrees above absolute zero.

Big Bang - The name given to the explosion which created the universe 14 billion years ago.

Black hole - A theoretical region of space which has such a powerful gravitational field that nothing can escape its pull, not even light.

Cern - The French acronym for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which built the LHC.

Dark matter - only four per cent of matter in the universe is visible. The rest is made up of dark matter (26 per cent) and dark energy (70 per cent) and the LHC may help to solve the mystery of what this dark matter consists of.

Hadron - A collective term for the particles which make up atoms, including protons and neutrons.

Higgs boson particle - a theoretical particle thought to be the missing link in the standard model of the universe, which is thought to give mass to all matter. Often called the "God particle".

Large Hadron Collider - the underground tunnel, 17 miles in circumference, in which particles will be smashed together at incredible speeds to recreate conditions in deep space moments after the Big Bang.

Quark - one of the constituent parts of protons and neutrons, quark particles are thought to be held together by other particles called gluons. One of the four particle colliders in the LHC is designed to study them.

Standard model - a collection of theories which, taken together, amount to the accepted wisdom about the behaviour of particles and the make-up of the universe. Its main weakness is that it cannot fully describe gravity or mass, but the LHC may help to breach that gap.

Speed of light - the LHC is able to make particles travel at 99.99 per cent of the speed of light, or just over 670 million miles per hour, meaning they complete 11,245 laps of the 17-mile underground circuit every second. Even travelling at that speed, it would still take a particle more than four years to reach the nearest star to the Sun.

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