An Overview of the Atlas Particle Detector

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Isaac Newton was the first man of science to prove it: all objects, irrespective of their nature, composition, size or length possess mass. But the question remained whether there could be a logical explanation for its occurrence or it just happened to be a mere intrinsic property of a given body. The answer to this dilemma came in the 1960s, when a team of scientists led by Prof. Peter Higgs claimed that mass arises out of the interaction between particles including fermions, neutrinos, quarks, antiquarks, leptons, antileptons and many more others on one side, and a field which pervades the universe known as the Higgs field, on the other side. The elementary particle which facilitates this process is called the Higgs boson.

Starting from this mind-boggling and revolutionary theory, a group of 3000 scientists from 38 countries working for the CERN Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, have started an experiment called ATLAS meant to substantiate Higgs’ claim and provide cogent answers to questions about the span of the universe, the existence of either microscopic black holes or dark matter.

Hence, at the Large Hadron Collider (with a forty-six-meter long and twenty-five-meter high detector), accelerated protons (at about 99.999999 percent the speed of light) are collided with other protons going in the opposite direction up to 600 million times in a second, in the same conditions that were present less than a billionth of a second after the universe began. To gauge their velocity, the scientists avail themselves of a huge magnet system which bends the path of electrically charged particles and makes them more visible.

Once the collision takes place, it triggers a chain of mini Big Bangs which, in their turn, generate some sort of debris which allegedly contains traces of the Higgs boson. The scientists collect these traces and, through a series of exhaustive tests, they try to identify and extract the putative particle. All this sustained effort notwithstanding, the progress made in pinpointing this particle is rather unsatisfactory since the CERN laboratory has announced recently in a press release  that it cannot provide a conclusive proof of the existence of such a particle. Similarly, no definite proof has been found so far as to the existence of either microscopic black holes or dark matter. But the involved parties are not ready to abandon their research yet seeing that all the tests run so far have not utterly excluded the possibility of reconstructing the universe in an artificial environment.  

More about this author: Loredana Ghitescu

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