# Journey to the center of the universe

I had the fortune to visit CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) earlier this month.  Located on the Franco-Swiss border, CERN is home to the most powerful particle accelerator mankind has ever built, the Large Hadron Collider, otherwise known as the LHC.  Here, bunches of approximately 100 billion protons each are accelerated in opposing directions around a 27-kilometer ring to collide at needle-point accuracy.
Fellow blogger, Ransom Stephens, published an excellent 8-part series last year about the LHC and the Higgs Boson discovery, which you can read here.  I highly recommend it.  I will relate my own first-hand experience in today’s post, and the impressive engineering required to create the experiments.  Though I lived near Geneva for nearly four years, this was the first time I ever visited the facility.
Let’s start with a little physics.  We all know that matter cannot travel at the speed of light, and mass increases asymptotically as an object approaches light-speed.  Freshmen physics taught us that mass increases (and time slows) by the factor of gamma, calculated by the equation below.
I had the fortune to visit CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) earlier this month.  Located on the Franco-Swiss border, CERN is home to the most powerful particle accelerator mankind has ever built, the Large Hadron Collider, otherwise known as the LHC.  Here, bunches of approximately 100 billion protons each are accelerated in opposing directions around a 27-kilometer ring to collide at needle-point accuracy.
Fellow blogger, Ransom Stephens, published an excellent 8-part series last year about the LHC and the Higgs Boson discovery, which you can read here.  I highly recommend it.  I will relate my own first-hand experience in today’s post, and the impressive engineering required to create the experiments.  Though I lived near Geneva for nearly four years, this was the first time I ever visited the facility.
Let’s start with a little physics.  We all know that matter cannot travel at the speed of light, and mass increases asymptotically as an object approaches light-speed.  Freshmen physics taught us that mass increases (and time slows) by the factor of gamma, calculated by the equation below.
Having largely unnoticeable effects in our non-relativistic world, gamma approaches infinity as v, the velocity of a particle, approaches c, the velocity of light.  Enormous energy is required to further accelerate these increasingly heavy protons circling in the LHC ever closer to the speed of light.
How fast are the protons accelerated?  Here’s a thought experiment. The closest star system to our sun is Alpha Centauri, over four light-years away.   Put another way, light is photons, and a photon would require four years to reach this distant neighbor.  After the current upgrade to the LHC, an LHC-accelerated proton would arrive just two seconds later.  It’s that fast

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