Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Talking about the Large Hadron Collider

Posted on: September 13, 2008

The collider at CERN was just turned on this week and the news was all about the possibility of the scientists creating a black hole that could swallow the Earth.  Fortunately I’d been doing my reading and was able to talk about how these black holes, if created, would evaporate so quickly that the instruments would only be able to detect them by the residue.  This lead to a discussion about particle accelerators and what they do.

I came up with two analogies.  The first is the collision of two cars.  The vehicles are the atoms, but when they collide, the car is smashed, but we can detect the smaller parts of the car by the bits of headlight and metal strewn about.  The collision of the hadrons gives us a glimpse at the world of sub-atomic particles.

A second analogy was an idea for modeling the protons within the accelerator.  I grabbed a couple small rare earth magnets from my cabinet and showed how a certain amount of force is required to separate these magnets.  The magnets represent the sub-atomic particles.  Smaller particles can be separated with a smaller energy collider.  To get the bigger magnets apart, we need a bigger collider.


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