Secrets of the Universe
July 10, 2015
I recently visited one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. It is a garden without flowers or exotic trees. It has no idealized landscapes of rock, sand and water. Just a few concrete paths through patches of grass where components of old particle physics experiments sparkle in the sun. There is the Big European Bubble Chamber, which used to hold almost 10,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen for recording particle tracks; its two-ton piston lies wistfully nearby. The RF (radiofrequency) cavity that once accelerated electrons and positrons around the Large Electron-Positron Collider, reminded me of a submarine from a Jules Verne novel. And the Cockroft-Walton generator towered over me like a friendly robot.
This is the Microcosm Garden at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN. CERN has many claims to fame. Several subatomic particles were first found there and it is the birthplace of the World Wide Web. CERN was most recently in the news for the discovery of the Higgs boson, a crucial step in understanding why some fundamental particles have mass. This discovery was made at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle collider and the largest machine ever built. The LHC lives in a circular tunnel 27 km (17 mi) in circumference and an average depth 100 m (328 ft), and it boasts to be both the hottest and coldest place in the galaxy.