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.