Above, one of the first displays of the 7 trillion electron volt collision that took place on March 30 using the Large Hadron Collider housed in a 17-mile loop facility underground near Geneva, Switzerland. Below, scientists monitor the experiment from one of the control rooms. Collisions at such record-breaking energy levels may allow researchers to more fully understand how the universe works and could shed light on the conditions that followed the Big Bang. (Credit: CERN)

U. COLORADO (US)—Scientists crashed proton beams together at three and one-half times the highest energy levels ever recorded on March 30 in a quest to discover the physical conditions immediately following the Big Bang.

Recreating conditions following the Big Bang using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is expected to provide new information about mysterious dark matter, dark energy, gravity and the fundamental laws of physics. The experiments may even shed light on the possibility that other dimensions exist, according to physicists.


The recent test, which marked the start of the LCH research program, was conducted at a 17-mile underground loop facility below the Swiss-French border in Geneva.

The combined energy level of the two-beam collisions was 7 trillion electron volts, says William Ford, who is a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ford is one of 17 CU-Boulder physics department faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and technicians involved in the project.

“Today was a very significant milestone, and we could not be more excited about the results,” says Ford. “This project and the measurements we have begun making have huge implications for our graduate students. These students will be getting real data they can work with to make new discoveries.”

Nine members of the CU-Boulder team have been flying back and forth during the past two weeks to work shifts at the European Organization for Nuclear Research Facility known as CERN, which operates the LHC.

The CU-Boulder research team has been working on the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS, one of four massive particle detectors in the collider and which weighs more than 12,500 tons. The amount of steel used in the magnetic yoke of the LHC’s CMS is equivalent to the amount of steel used to build the Eiffel Tower.

The team is primarily involved with the CMS forward pixel detectors—the “eyes” of the device—that help researchers measure the direction and momentum of subatomic particles following collisions as they penetrate 25 million different silicon elements and provide clues to their origin and structure, says physics professor John Cumalat, another member of CU-Boulder’s LHC team.

One target of the effort is to find evidence of the elusive Higgs boson, a theoretical elementary particle that has been predicted by physicists and is believed to hold clues to the mass of matter.

“This is a very exciting project because we are on the frontier of energy,” says Cumalat. “This project undoubtedly holds some very big surprises for us over the coming months and years.”

Sixteen years in the making, the $3.8 billion LHC project involves an estimated 10,000 people and staff from 60 countries, including more than 1,700 scientists, engineers, students and technicians from 94 American universities and laboratories supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation. The United States is providing about $530 million, primarily for the LHC detectors.

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