This weekend we went to the museum’s Hadron Collider Exhibition.
Have you visited yet? Are you planning on visiting?
Do you have any idea of what the Hardon Collider is or does?
Initially, I didn’t.
I think I have a basic understanding of it now.
Firstly, a hadron is a particle which is made up of quarks.
Protons and neutrons are hadrons.
So, a Large Hadron Collider collides hadrons.
The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, does these collisions within a 27km circular tunnel,
which is 100 metres below Switzerland and France.
Within this tunnel are beam pipes.
These pipes contain protons (remember, they are a hadron) in a vacuum.
One pipe send protons in a clockwise direction and the other sends them in an anti-clockwise directions.
These protons are accelerated around the 27km circular path at incredible speeds.
Most of the LHC ring is made of incredibly powerful magnets.
These magnets steer the protons around the circle.
Liquid helium flows through these magnets keeping them at an incredible -271.3 degrees Celcius,
which is only 1.9 degrees above the lowest possible temperature, absolute zero.
When you cool metal it shrinks, and these pipes shrink about 30 metres when they are cooled.
To compensate for these compressions and expansions,
thousands of flexible connectors are positioned throughout the circuit.
Interestingly, when they first turned on the LHC in 2008,
one of these connectors failed to operate properly,
causing a breech in the circuit,
which led to liquid helium violently venting out and damaging 750 metres of the collider.
This caused massive delays.
It was 2010 before it was ready to begin collisions again.
Within the collider, there are also magnets that squeeze the proton beams together
so they can collide inside one of the 4 large detectors.
(There are also 3 smaller detectors).
The largest detector is over 25 metres tall,
which is huge compared to the size of the objects being collided,
objects we can’t even see because they are so small..
When they collide, the protons are smashed into their smaller components.
These collisions create temperatures that are much hotter than the sun.
(Recent collisions have created temperatures 100 000 times hotter than the centre of the sun!)
Physicists then analyse the data to see what the collision has created.
With 40 million collisions every second, the physicists rely on computer analysis to deal with all the data.
It was the Higgs Boson that the physicists were looking for in their first experiments at the LHC
and, in 2012, they announced that they had found it.
(Watch the dvd “Particle Fever”, if you want to see what excited physicists look like).
The Higgs Boson was the final piece of the Standard Model puzzle that physicists had been working on.
This is the model physicists currently use to explain all the basic ‘ingredients’ that they believe make up the universe.
(Nope, it’s not the proton, neutron and electron anymore.)
Oh and don’t worry.
Just because they’ve found the Higgs Boson, doesn’t mean that all their questions are answered.
So that’s what I learned at the Hadron Collider exhibition.
It’s very well presented.
The experience starts with a short video
(but make sure you arrive 15 minutes before your time so you have time to look at the exhibits leading up to the auditorium)
After the video, you begin your walk through the simulated LHC tunnel and offices.
There are artifacts from the LHC to see
and plenty of videos and audios to listen to.
(I really appreciated the subtitles and printed texts on all the audio components).
As you walk through the simulated halls, pay attention to all the little details.
On the physicists’ noticeboards, we found this treasure…
(If you can’t read the catchline it says, “Fun Fact: Ex-particle-physicists make the worst biologists.)
Our favourite funny was this Schrodinger’s Cat one.
(You’ll have to look up “Schorodinger’s Cat” if you don’t find it funny.)
Within the simulated office, you had to take your time and look around properly.
There were lots of little details that you could miss if you were in a hurry.
This was the simulated office of one of the people who were analysing the Higgs Boson data.
Make sure you stay to watch her reaction when she realises they have found the Higgs Boson.
This exhibit was a visually spectacular one,
with lots of details
and stacks of reading.
We highly recommend it… with a couple of restrictions.
Firstly, I wouldn’t bother taking young children or younger students to see this exhibition.
It is not geared towards younger learners who can’t grasp what is happening at the LHC.
And secondly, to get the most out of the experience, I would prepare your students before going.
My family read this new release book, “Smash: Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider”
(It’s a graphic novel but beggars can’t be choosers when there’s so little written about the LHC and particle physics for younger audiences)
We also watched “Particle Fever” which was an excellent documentary
and, if you can only do one thing in preparation, I would watch this dvd.
With the right audience, who is fully prepared to engage with the information, the Hadron Collider exhibition at the Brisbane Museum is well-worth a visit.