We know a lot more about light than our ancestors did two hundred years ago. We know that it behaves like an electromagnetic wave, travelling through the void of space at about 300,000 km/s. Light was Albert Einstein’s lifetime muse, and led to his most important discoveries: special relativity, E = mc2, and general relativity. Einstein was disturbed by quantum physics, and wished to quantify light without it. Today, physicists are struggling to connect Einstein’s general relativity to the accepted, but incomplete study of quantum physics. They wish to develop a “Unified Theory,” or, one equation for everything. In order to do so, they need to find and determine the behaviour of all of the elementary particles that make up the matter in the Universe.
Although the Universe is composed of the elements in the periodic table, these elements are not elementary particles. An elementary particle, by definition, is not composed of smaller building blocks. All atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. Scientists today believe that electrons are elementary particles, but do not believe that protons or neutrons are. Today, thirty-eight countries and three thousand scientists are working together, wishing to study the dozens of theoretical elementary particles, like those that may comprise a proton, by means of the most expensive Physics experiment ever developed: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Built in 2008, one hundred metres below the surface in Geneva, a circular pipe, two inches in diameter, and twenty-seven kilometres long, contains particles that are accelerated by magnets to nearly light speed in opposing directions. The inevitable collisions of these particles have an inherent high energy density associated with them. The energy is so great, that mass is created as a result of them. How much mass is created? E/c2 kilograms are synthesized, as predicted by Einstein. What does this mass consist of? It consists of elementary particles, which seem to come from nowhere. In fact, they do come from nowhere: it is believed that the Universe expands freely over time. With this in mind, the Big Bang may be viewed as a natural occurrence. At the LHC site, a one-billion-dollar camera, the ATLAS Detector, takes 3D pictures at a specific location along this pipe where collisions are orchestrated. The camera is designed to detect elementary particles that are created due to the collisions. The ATLAS is the size of a six-storey building. The camera is at the current forefront of engineering technology, but will no doubt come standard with the iphone 6.
By studying these photographs and understanding the particles involved in the collisions, physicists are beginning to extend their understanding of life’s building blocks. If we learn more about the building blocks, we can learn more about the nature of life during the early stages of the Big Bang, and answer important questions, like what is dark matter composed of? The world’s most prominent physicist, Stephen Hawking, believes that we may develop a Unified Theory during the twenty-first century. If this comes to fruition, it will be man’s crowning achievement to that point. It will be the final answer to “What is the Universe?” and “How does the Universe behave?” The unified theory may become common knowledge to the public, taught in High Schools across the Planet. Then, the public can, with a more solid foundation to stand upon, ask the most compelling question of all, “Why?”