How did life begin? The answer to this big question may lie in a 17-mile tunnel that spans the border of Switzerland and France, where a collaboration of international scientists at CERN are building a new experiment to understand how matter is put together. The Standard Model, informed by Einstein's theory of general relativity, describes how tiny particles like protons and electrons interact--you can think of it like the Lego blocks of the universe. But the theory failed to account for gravity. So inside this tunnel, called the Large Hadron Collider, researchers recreated the conditions at the birth of the universe, hurling particles together and recording their momentum and energy. This led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the so-called "god particle," in 2012. The Higgs is the predicted but initially unproven particle that gives other particles their mass--without the Higgs Boson, mass fundamentally doesn't exist.
Now, the Collider is receiving significant upgrades. The tunnel is so large, researchers ride bicycles to their destination during its construction. When it reopens, it will be experimenting on everything from antimatter to dark energy. Dark matter is believed to interact with regular matter only through gravity, and by creating mass, the Higgs Boson could be the key to understanding how. I had the mind-blowing opportunity to visit the tunnel last week at #WCSJ2019, where the most fun fact I learned was that the birth of the universe didn't have a smell.
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