What is the Large Hadron Collider?
The Large Hadron Collider or LHC is the worlds largest and most expensive science project! Initially approved in 1995 the project was hit by multiple delays and soon exceeded it's initial budget of approximately €1.6 billion eventually reaching an astonishing €3.4 Billion. Originally set to begin operation in 2005 it took a further 3 years before this was actually realized.
The LHC is a massive 27km long metal tunnel running underground on the France-Switzerland border.
What does the Large Hadron Collider actually do?
In the simplest terms possible the LHC smashes things, really, really fast. More accurately it is what physicists call a particle accelerator. Remember in school when your science teacher told you how every thing was made of really, really small bits called atoms? Well the LHC goes one step further it takes one of the bits that atoms are made of called Protons (Protons are a type of what we boffins call Hadrons but that another story) and it sends them really fast around this huge tunnel at almost the speed of light. (thats just under 300,000 kilometres per second).
Imagine a racing car speeding around a circuit, now imagine that there are millions of these cars going around the circuit almost 20,000 times per second. Finally take a load more of these cars and send them the other at the same speed. What do you imagine might happen?
Physicists are using really powerful magnets to steer these cars and the temperature in the tunnel is just 1.9 kelvin (-272 degrees Celsius). The reason for the extreme cold is because the magnets work best at very low temperatures, since the magnets are needed to steer the protons the tunnel must be kept at this temperature.
The tunnel uses sensors to see what's going on (because it's far to small to see)
What is the LHC trying to do?
The LHC was built to find out certain things about the universe and how it began. Specifically it is looking to see what happened in the seconds after the big bang by recreating it (like a model). It is also looking for something called the Higgs Boson.
What the heck is this Higgs Boson the media keeps mentioning?
The Higgs Boson is the elementary particle speculated to give otherwise mass-less elementary particles mass. This is a little complex so I'll explain:
Earlier I mentioned that Hadrons are the things stuff is made of, well basically Bosons are the things that make stuff do stuff. If it wasn't for bosons nothing would happen. The Higgs boson is named after a scientist named P.Higgs (Seriously) and it is the particle which is supposed to cause gravity (the force that makes you stick to the earth among other things).
The problem is that no-one has ever seen or detected this Higg's boson. We don't even know if it even exists. If it doesn't exist then we will have to look for a new theory.