Asked by: Pam Goudie, Isle of Lewis
The famous Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has made headlines with its unprecedented power to probe the nature of matter. But the LHC is the culmination of decades of research into ways of smashing together subatomic particles with ever greater violence.
In the 1960s, physicists began investigating ways of boosting the energy of particle collisions by running two beams of particles into each other, rather than simply smashing one beam into a stationary target. In 1970, scientists at CERN near Geneva unveiled the Intersecting Storage Rings (ISR), which used magnets to accelerate and then bring together two streams of protons (particles belonging to the family known as ‘hadrons’). It was the world’s first hadron collider.
Despite being just 150m across, the design of the ISR boosted the impact energy 30-fold compared to hitting a fixed target. Over 30 years later, the same basic idea was incorporated into the LHC, which is over 8.5km across and achieves energies 200 times greater still.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.