Recreating Bang

The world’s largest and most complex machine called the Large Hydron Collider (LHC) has started looking into the mysteries of the universe in a 27-km long underground laboratory near Geneva. After many hiccups for months, scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) succeeded in making millions of high-energy proton beams crash into each other on Tuesday in an attempt to simulate the Big Bang from which the universe is thought to have emerged. It is the costliest experiment in human history, with about US $ 10 billion spent on it, and it took about 25 years of science and engineering to put in place. It is the result of an international collaborative effort in which India also has a part.

Scientists hope that the experiment will provide answers to some of the most basic questions about the nature of the universe and test many propositions about it. They expect to find validation of ideas like the existence of dark matter, which is supposed to make up about 25 per cent of the universe, and the presence of the Higgs boson, also called the God particle, which is believed to give mass to all particles. The recreation of creation involves a journey of 13.7 billion years into the past, when space and time had just formed. There are even doubts whether the human mind can ever comprehend the universe.

Philosophy, metaphysics and art have sought answers in various ways and found different explanations. Scientists, through theoretical reasoning and demonstrative experiments, are trying to find the answers and the CERN experiment is an expression of that spirit of exploration, of the yearning to follow knowledge  beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Data has started emerging from the experiment but it will take years for the scientists to study and assess it and form conclusions. Thousands of scientists are poring over the data all over the world. Fears have been expressed about Frankenstein-like consequences emerging from the experiment. But these have been proved to be misplaced.

Questions have also been raised about the need to spend so much money on an experiment. But it is wrong to take a strictly utilitarian view and judge scientific efforts on the basis of their immediate practical results. The experiment may be costly, but it is worth the investment, considering its ambitious aim, which is an understanding of the building blocks of the universe, or a ‘multiverse.’

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