John Overmyer

The Mind’s New Eye

The Large Hadron Collider's ability to re-create the conditions of the early universe opens up an exciting possibility. We may finally be able to observe the so-called "dark matter," which contributes five times as much to the total mass of the universe as normal matter.

CAMBRIDGE – Modern physics and cosmology suggest that basic truths about how nature operates, and how our universe arose, are visible only to those who can see events that occur faster than the time it takes for light to cross a proton, and whose vision can resolve sub-nuclear distances. Fortunately, that does not rule out humans, for we can augment the eyes we were born with.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) rises to the opportunity. By smashing protons together with unprecedented energy, monitoring the many particles that emerge from the collisions, and reconstructing the primary events that produced them, physicists will in effect have constructed the fastest, highest-resolution microscope ever, with each proton taking a snapshot of the other’s interior.

The LHC is a magnificent engineering project, whose many “gee-whiz’’ features have been widely reported. I will forego all that, and skip to the chase: what can we hope to see?

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