RHUL physicists involved in “most important experiment of our lives”

The LHC may not be a very imaginatively named yet it fully makes up for it by some absolutely amazing statistics. To get the particles to almost the speed of light, CERN will fire particles around the ring at speeds of 11,245 times per second. The circumference of the LHC is 16.5 miles, which is around the same distance as travelling in a straight line from Holloway’s gates to the entrance of Clapham Junction train station. The Magnets which control the particles and steer them in the right direction are kept at a constant temperature of -271.3 centigrade; to deal with the temperature produced when the two atoms collide which is 100,000 times hotter then the centre of the sun. When you take these amazing figures into consideration it is not surprising to see why the project has taken over 20 years to plan and 14 years to build, with a cost over €3 Billion.

The running of a project of this size has required an incredibly large workforce and the collaboration of many different institutions from various countries. One particular section known as ‘Alice’, which is designed to detect lead ion collisions was worked on by some of our own Holloway physicists. Alice alone has taken, in total, the efforts of over 1500 members from 31 countries to construct it. This is only one of four detectors built around the ring, which have in total been constructed with the contribution of over 6000 members. Alice itself weighs over 7000 tones, occupies a space, which is 46 metres long by 25 metres wide, 100 metres underground. This means that it would just fit in to one of Founders’ Quads.

So what are the possible practical uses of it? This topic is hotly debated with individuals feeling that far too much money has already been spent on the project when there is no obvious commercial benefit and many more projects desperately looking for funding. While others feel only by doing “pure” science with no commercial constriction will it be possible for great scientific and technical leaps to occur. Possible uses which have been highlighted range from the probable: creating new power sources and treatments for cancer, to the more far-fetched ideas of humans travelling at the speed of light and creating doorways in to other dimensions.

Whether you feel that the LHC is a major waste of money or a major leap forward it must be noted that CERN has a good track record of getting its projects to the commercial market. After all in 1991 its scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented a complex distributed information system, which is better known today as the World Wide Web!

For more information I would recommend that you visit their website at:

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