An epic scientific exploration is now underway, using the largest, most complicated research facility ever devised. Its goal is as ambitious as it is urgent: to fill troubling gaps in our understanding of the fundamental nature of physical reality. It seeks to identify the full range of particles, fields and forces that act on all scales from the submicroscopic to the cosmic, and that shape the familiar luminous matter of galaxies, the enigmatic, invisible "dark matter" that surrounds them, and a previously undetected, parallel world of "supersymmetric" objects.
The explorers are an elite worldwide collaboration that includes four physicists from the University of Maryland. Their laboratory is a 27-kilometer underground ring on the Swiss-French border, called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where super-accelerated clusters of protons slam into each other at 99.99% the speed of light. Their tools are ultra-sensitive detectors, some as large as five-story office buildings, that record the results of those collisions—including the creation of heretofore unseen particles predicted by theory.
The energy produced in LHC collisions is unprecedented and almost unimaginably intense. It is equivalent to conditions at 10-15 second (a millionth of a billionth of a second) after the Big Bang that occurred about 14 billion years ago, and will reveal the kind of primordial miasma that eventually cooled and expanded into the universe we see today.
For a quick overview of the science of the LHC, click here. For more detailed information, see the public-information websites of CERN, home of the LHC, FermiLab, and the CMS collaboration. Many of the images, videos and animations shown here are provided courtesy of those organizations.