[Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN]
Drawn by CERN physicist Dr. Sergio Cittolin. A whole bunch more are available here.
Previously: A collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical art, some of our first modern medical illustrations.
Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland have observed evidence of a new subatomic particle. Further research will try to determine if it is the elusive Higgs boson, thought to be responsible for giving matter its property of mass.
In the Standard Model of physics, matter is made up of small particles called fermions (including quarks and leptons). Forces such as electromagnetism are carried by bosons.
Physicists use electromagnetic ﬁelds to whip beams of protons around and around, accelerating them to nearly the speed of light. This gives the protons enormous kinetic energy. Finally the beams are allowed to intersect, and where protons collide, their energy is released. New particles – some of them very short-lived – are formed from this energy.
As Albert Einstein discovered, mass can be deﬁned as a quantity of energy. Subatomic particle masses are given as amounts of electron volts (the energy of a single electron accelerated by a potential difference of one volt). The newly discovered particle - possibly the Higgs boson – is found to have a mass of about 125 billion electron volts. Other particles, such as photons, have no mass at all.
Exploring The Vacuum With the LHC
When you think of space, you think of emptiness. You probably could not be more wrong. Using the 54km of underground tubes and tunnels that is the LHC we explore the vacuum. In an environment where the air pressure is lower than on the moon, it is quite possibly the best vacuum humanity can produce.
Extremely low energy, but definitely not empty. The vacuum of space is populated by virtual particles which pop in and out of existence on a time scale that is undetectable by our current technology. This odd appearance is allowed by the laws of quantum mechanics.
Energy is also added to the vacuum through the interaction of quark-antiquark pairs (chiral condensate) which contribute mass to particles, which can be thought of as energy. Chrial condensate is something that the LHC is very interested in studying through use of the ALICE experiment.
The Higgs: the fluctuating quantum fields are not the only thing filling the ‘empty’ vacuum of space. The Higgs field is omnipresent and permanent and is thought to be responsible for the mass of all fundamental particles. The Higgs boson is the accompanying particle and would definitively prove the Higgs field if detected.
The energy of the vacuum is something quite different on the astronomical scale, instead of minuscule points of undetectable energy, it becomes the mammoth and unknown dark energy. Current predictions for the expansion of the universe do not hold with new observations and the LHC is hoping to learn some more about dark energy so that we can reconcile our modern observations with physics.
(Images via Visualizations of Quantum Chromodynamics)