The field of particle physics is poised to enter unknown territory with the startup of a massive new accelerator--the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)--in Europe this summer. On September 10, LHC scientists will attempt to send the first beam of protons speeding around the accelerator.
The LHC will put hotly debated theories to the test as it generates new experimental data. Potential breakthroughs include an explanation of what gives mass to fundamental particles and identification of the mysterious dark matter that makes up most of the mass in the universe. More exotic possibilities include evidence for new forces of nature or hidden extra dimensions of space and time.
The scale of the LHC is gigantic in every respect--its physical size, the energies attained, the amount of data it will generate, and the size of the international collaboration involved in its planning, construction, and operation. In September, high-energy beams of protons will begin circulating around the LHC's 27-kilometer (16.8-mile) accelerator ring located 100 meters (328 feet) underground at CERN, the European particle physics lab based in Geneva, Switzerland. After a period of testing, the beams will cross paths inside the detectors and the first collisions will take place.