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Fermilab reacts with excitement after particle collision

Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 6:52 a.m. CDT

BATAVIA – Fermilab physicist Ian Shipsey is still giddy with excitement after seeing the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday move closer to re-creating the conditions that existed shortly after the Big Bang.

From Fermilab’s LHC Remote Operations Center, Shipsey and other scientists watched the LHC set record-breaking particle collisions of 7 trillion electron volts.

“It was emotional to see,” Shipsey said. “It was a very exciting moment for everyone at Fermilab.”

By using accelerators, scientists hope to re-create the conditions that existed shortly after the Big Bang. The big-bang theory holds that all the matter and energy in the universe originated from a state of enormous density and temperatures that expanded or exploded in a finite moment.

“We are trying to make primordial soup,” Shipsey said.

While Fermilab is in a race with large Hadron Collider scientists to find answers to these questions, it also is collaborating with them. Fermilab is one of many U.S. institutions participating in the LHC project.

The LHC last December broke the world record for proton acceleration, firing particle beams with 20 percent more power than Fermilab’s Tevatron Collider, which previously held the record.

The collisions herald a new era for researchers working on the machine in a 17-mile tunnel below the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

“That’s it! They’ve had a collision,” said Oliver Buchmueller from Imperial College in London as people closely watched monitors.

In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the first successful collisions were confirmed.

Their colleagues from around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new record, which surpasses the 2.36 TeV CERN recorded last year.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.

Tuesday’s initial attempts at collisions were unsuccessful because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working on the massive machine.

That meant the protons had to be “dumped” from the collider and new beams had to be injected.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story

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