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Large Hadron Collider

This $6 billion, 16-mile-long particle accelerator might help us understand the fabric of reality. Plus other Literally Big Ideas.

Do the words "Higgs boson," "grand unified theory," or "strong force" mean anything to you? Probably not. Here's what you need to know: Buried underneath parts of Switzerland and France is 16-mile-long circular tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider, which cost nearly $6 billion to build. When the LHC opens this spring, protons inside it will be accelerated to nearly the speed of light before crashing into each other in a subatomic head-on collision. The studies of the resulting explosions may help physicists dramatically increase their understanding of the most basic levels of the universe, including the possible observation of "the God particle," the thing that gives all other particles mass, and which physicists theoretically know exists but have never seen. The findings at the LHC probably wont result in a new line of computers or change your life (at least not right away). But that's missing the point-this is discovery for discovery's sake.

Literally Big Ideas

These ideas aren't just big, they're huge-literally.Breeze Avenue, by Richard GrossmanThe experimental novelist Richard Grossman's new book is 3 million pages long. That's 4,000 750-page volumes, loosely based on Dante's Divine Comedy, translated back and forth between multiple languages, including Yiddish and Latin. Get ready for the world's longest CliffsNotes.New Safe ConfinementThe Ukrainian government has commissioned a $505-million, 500-foot-tall, 350-foot-wide steel hangar on wheels, called the New Safe Confinement, to encase the site of the Chernobyl power plant. It will be built a safe distance from the decaying reactor, and rolled into place once complete. Inside, automated cranes will disassemble the contaminated Reactor Four, restricting human contact to almost nil.Glacier WrappingSince the Swiss can't stop global warming by themselves, the government has decided to do what it can in the meantime to stop its Gurschen glacier from melting any more than it already has. To ward off the sun they've covered Gurschen in 43,000 square feet of reflective foil. Christo it ain't, but it seems to be getting the job done.Earth SandwichAccording to video blogger Ze Frank, what the Earth really needs is to be made into a sandwich. His logic? If two people put slices of bread on the ground on opposite sides of the Earth, the resulting sandwich will remind us that we're all in this together. His site facilitates this geo-culinary endeavor, with a user gallery of uploaded pictures of slices and their corresponding global completion points. So far the planet has only been served open-faced, and those of us in the lower 48 are out of luck: Our sandwiches would have to be closed somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

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