Mini-versions of the “Big Bang” which gave birth to the universe almost 14 billion years ago have been created within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva by a team including scientists from Birmingham.
British scientists from the University of Birmingham working on the LHC’s Alice experiment are celebrating the achievement, which opens up a new era in particle physics research.
The “Mini Bangs” were produced by smashing together lead ions - atoms of lead stripped of their electrons - together at enormous energies.
The collisions generated temperatures a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun, reproducing conditions not seen since just after the Big Bang.
Dr David Evans, a member of the UK team from the University of Birmingham, said: “We are thrilled with the achievement. The collisions generated mini Big Bangs and the highest temperatures and densities ever achieved in an experiment.
“This process took place in a safe, controlled environment generating incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs with temperatures of over 10 trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun. At these temperatures even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a quark-gluon plasma.”
Powerful magnets spun the lead ions round miles of underground tunnels at near the speed of light. Flying in opposite directions, the particles were focused into a narrow beam and forced to collide inside the massive Alice “detector”.
Scientists hope the quark-gluon plasma will allow them to learn more about the Strong Force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.
The Alice experiment is just one part of the LHC, whose circular beam tunnel runs for 27 kilometres (16.7 miles) 100 metres (328ft) below the French/Swiss border. Four detectors sit in huge chambers at various points in the tunnel.
Alice is 16 metres (52.5ft) high, 26 metres (85.3ft) across and weighs around 10,000 tons. The Alice experiment involves around 1,000 physicists and engineers from 100 institutes in 30 countries. Britain’s contribution includes eight physicists and engineers and seven PhD students from the University of Birmingham.