Airdate: Feb 15, 2001
Scientist: Persis Drell
Particle Physics: Smallest
With the help of a particle accelerator, scientists are hoping to learn about the creation of the universe.
ambience: Particle accelerator warning announcement
We're listening to the sounds of a particle accelerator about to go into operation. With the help of this huge underground tunnel, scientists are searching for the tiniest particles of matter, hoping for a glimpse of the make up of the universe. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
"We're looking at the universe on the smallest scale we have accessible to us. We are looking at the fundamental building blocks that make all the matter we see around us."
Persis Drell is a physics professor at Cornell University. She says that one mystery about the evolution of the universe lies in something called "antimatter". It's thought to have existed at the time of the big bang - the cataclysmic event which some scientists say marked the creation of the universe When matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other, creating pure energy.
"We don't exactly know what happened when the big bang blew. But we presume that equal amounts of antimatter and antimatter were created in the big bang. Now, if there had been equal amounts of matter and matter for very long, they would have annihilated each other in the early hot soup of the universe and there wouldn't have been any matter left over, to become the galaxies, and in fact to become us."
Inside the particle accelerator, scientists have created conditions where beams of matter and antimatter collide. These collisions create particles which are thought to have been present at the birth of the universe, in the first seconds after the big bang.
"As we study the fundamental particles, their fundamental interactions, we are also helping to determine, how did the universe evolve from the big bang to being galaxies and planets and solar systems and us."
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.