A hundred metres below ground, under the border between France and Switzerland, scientists are travelling back in time to study matter as it was in the first fractions of a second after the beginning of the Universe. They are using the world's largest scientific instrument to help reveal how this primordial matter developed into the building blocks that form the great diversity of the Universe today.
These scientists-many from the UK- are explorers, extending our horizons in time as well as space, in an attempt to answer one of the most fundamental of questions:
At CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva,
the path of the world's largest particle collider beneath the border
between France and Switzerland.
The observations of astronomers imply that the Universe is still expanding from an infinitely dense and energetic state, after an initial 'hot big bang' some 15 billion years ago. But how did the matter of the present-day Universe evolve from this state? This is one of the major questions that modern research in particle physics seeks to answer. High energy collisions of subatomic particles can take us back in time to the forms of matter that probably existed in the first fractions of a second after the big bang. In this way studying matter at the smallest of scales (subatomic particles) has become inextricably linked with research at the largest of scales (the cosmos). The particle physicists of today have joined forces with astronomers in exploring the origins of the Universe-and in particular, the origins of matter.