The Great Particle Adventure Episodes
The notion of atoms dates back to Greek philosophers who sought a natural mechanical explanation of the Universe, as opposed to a divine one. The existence what we call chemical atoms, the constituents of all we see around us, wasn't proved until a hundred years ago, but almost simultaneously it was realised these weren't the indivisible constituents the Greeks envisaged. Much of the story of physics since then has been the ever-deeper probing of matter until, at the end of the 20th century, a complete list of fundamental ingredients had been identified, apart from one, the much discussed Higgs particle. In this programme, Ben finds out why this last particle is so pivotal, not just to atomic theory, but to our very existence - and how hopeful the scientists are of proving its existence.
2. Who Ordered That?
The atoms that make up our material world are important to us, but it turns out they aren't so significant on the cosmic stage. In fact early in the search for the stuff of atoms, researchers discovered particles that played no part in Earthly chemistry - for example particles in cosmic rays that resemble electrons (the stuff of electricity and the chemical glue in molecules) in almost all respects except that they weigh 140 times more. "Who ordered that?" one Nobel laureate demanded. They also discovered antimatter - the destructive mirror-image particles at obliterate all matter they come into contact with. In fact, the Universe is mostly made up of particles that could never make atoms, so that we are just the flotsam of the cosmos. But the main constituent of the Universe, what makes 80% of creation, has never been seen in the lab. Researchers at CERN believe they can create samples of it, down here on Earth.
If the LHC is successful, it will explain the nature of the Universe around us in terms of a few simple ingredients and a few simple rules. But the Universe now was forged in a Big Bang where conditions were very different, and the rules were very different, and those early moments were crucial to determining how things turned out later. At the LHC they can recreate conditions as they were billionths of a second after the Big Bang, before atoms and nuclei existed. They can find out why matter and antimatter didn't mutually annihilate each other to leave behind a Universe of pure, brilliant light. And they can look into the very structure of space and time - the fabric of the Universe.
- Time: Wednesday 10th/17th/24th September, 9.00pm
- Presenter: Ben Miller
- Producer: Roland Pease