Have you ever wondered why photons behave as though they have mass yet have none at all? Fret no longer, fellow physics enthusiasts, for the Large Hadron Collider will soon solve your quandries. The first beam of protons traveled almost at the speed of light around 17 miles of tunnels on September 10th, 2008. The next phase of the test will be to send a beam of protons around in the opposite direction. The ultimate test: protons will travel in opposite directions around the tunnels and collide with each other. The results of this collision will hopefully confirm the Standard Model, the current theory of particle physics. Rumor has it that the much theorized Higgs boson might appear!
The Standard Model attempts to describe how elementary particles that make up matter interact with each other. It succeeds in three out of four known types of interactions. However, the Standard Model does not include gravity, the fourth type of interaction, making it an incomplete theory. Physicists have long struggled to unify the theory of special relativity (gravity) with quantum mechanics (how particles at the atomic and subatomic levels behave and interact) because the laws of gravity that govern larger objects do not apply at the subatomic level.
Physicists hope that the Large Hadron Collider will produce a Higgs boson (also known as the God Particle), the only particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model that has never been directly observed. It will explain how massless particles like photons (light particles) acquire mass, and it will provide further evidence that the Standard Model is correct. If it doesn’t appear, then we might have to rethink everything we know about particle physics.
Some people thought (and still think) that colliding protons will make the world explode. Most physicists disagree. Even if the world does explode, we probably won’t feel a thing.