On this day in 2008, scientists successfully flip the switch for the first time on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) lab in Geneva, kicking off what many called history’s biggest science experiment.
Testing particle physics theories, the $8 billion LHC is the largest particle accelerator in the world, made up of superconducting magnets that allow engineers and physicists to study subatomic particles including protons, electrons, quarks and photons. The LHC can create 600 million collisions per second.
The 17-mile underground ring, located beneath the Swiss-French border, sends particle beams at the speed of light, causing them to collide and recreate debris caused by the Big Bang. At the time of its launch, some scientists and environmentalists speculated that the LHC would create a mini black hole that could end the world. These claims were refuted by CERN and physicist Stephen Hawking, who said any mini black holes would evaporate instantly.
The goal of the LHC, the largest scientific instrument on the planet, was to create and discover the Higgs boson, better known as “the God particle.” In 1964, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert came up with the theory that the particle associated with a mass-transmitting energy field was the key to how everything in the universe acquires mass.
In 2012, CERN announced the LHC experiments had allowed researchers to observe a particle consistent with the Higgs boson. On Oct. 8, 2013, Higgs and Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider.”