Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Wednesday, 29 September 2010 08:27 UK
Cambridge professor's Hadron research two years on
ATLAS Experiment
This is ATLAS, the most powerful particle accelerator ever built

The Cambridge University academic leading one of the Hadron Collider's two major projects said it would reveal unexpected scientific breakthroughs.

Professor Andy Parker said: "Every advance in physics has given us new technology. We're hoping to come up with new science as well."

Professor Parker is head of the ATLAS project at Cern in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider is based.

It is two years since the Hadron Collider was first switched on.

'Short circuit'

It was launched in September 2008, however there were much-publicised glitches, as the professor of high energy physics at Cambridge University explained: "When we first turned it on it worked very well, but then there was a short circuit of sorts.

"About 10,000 amps went in the wrong direction and that set us back for a year.

"But we've been running very smoothly since last November."

This means Andy Parker's team now has access to an enormous amount of new data, and he has been revealing the first results since summer 2010.

'Circle line'

ATLAS (which stands for A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) is a particle physics experiment.

ATLAS collision event
A microscopic black hole produced by the collision of two protons

"It's about the size of the Circle Line in London," said Professor Parker. "And we accelerate protons, which are small particles from the centre of atoms, around the circle and we collide them in opposite directions.

"We smash them to bits and see what's there and we can use those collisions to understand a lot about the particles and forces of nature."

The experiments are aimed at helping scientists understand what happened during the Big Bang, the theory which explains how the universe evolved.

'Science fiction'

Andy Parker's research focuses on finding out if the universe has more than the three space dimensions we are familiar with - height, width and breadth.

"Are there some hidden dimensions as seen in science fiction? My own research is to try and count that number," he said.

"To see whether there are four, or five, or some hidden dimensions which we haven't seen yet, which is quite fun."

Black hole

He also denied that any of the scientists at Cern (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Organisation for Nuclear Research) were in any danger when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was switched on.

"I was as certain as I could be of anything that there was no danger. Absolutely 100%, because nature does these experiments all the time," Professor Parker stated.

"The planet is bombarded by high energy particles. Those collisions are just as powerful as the LHC ones, in fact more powerful, so if it was possible to make a black hole that could destroy us, it would have happened billions of years ago.

ATLAS magnet
This magnet is now 100m underground and part of the giant particle detector

"The universe does this all the time. We're just able to look at it very closely [using ATLAS] while it's happening."

'New science'

Billions have been spent on developing the LHC by Cern's member states.

Andy Parker said he thought the vast cost was worth it. He said all advances in physics led to the development of new technology, even if the technology itself was undreamt of by the physicists who originally made the discoveries.

Radio, he explained, was a good example of this: "James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity with magnetism years ago, and made electro magnetic things understandable - and that lets us build radios.

"It was a completely new application, because it was a completely new science. We're hoping to come up with new science as well.

"So we don't know what the applications will be, but they will presumably be as revolutionary as radio would be to a 16th Century British nobleman."

Large Hadron Collider: Guide introduction
20 Nov 09 |  Science & Environment
Hints of 'time before Big Bang'
06 Jun 08 |  Science & Environment


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific