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High energy physics is another term for particle physics, the study of elementary particles and their interactions. So why high energy? Well, the only way to study these particles are through particle accelerators and colliders, colossal machines that deal with vast amounts of energy.
To give you an idea how high these energies can be, let’s take the much talked about Large Hadron Collider or LHC at CERN for example. Yes, it’s the same LHC from Dan Brown’s novel, Angels & Demons – he didn’t make that machine up. Anyway, that collider can bring protons to collide at 7 TeV each.
Just how big is 7 TeV?
That should be equal to 1.12 x 10-6 joules. Not so big is it? However, remember that that energy is only for one proton, a particle with a mass of roughly only 1.67×10-27 kg.
Let’s make some crude computations here, just for kicks. So, if we had 1 gram of protons, that would be equivalent to at least 5.9 x 1023 proton particles. Now, if each proton carried 1.12 x 10-6 joules, then the total energy for 1 gram of protons would be 6.61 x 1017 joules.
Thus, if we had a 13,000 kg pick-up truck, that energy would be enough to lift it up to a height of 6.61×1017 joules/(13,000 kg x 9.8 m/s2) = 5.19×1012 m or 5,190,000,000 km. That’s more than enough energy to lift the pick-up truck to outer space!
Once the LHC becomes operational, it will be the largest toy of all high energy physicists. With it, they hope to find what has still remained as the most elusive particle so far – the Higgs boson. If their search ends up successful, much of the questions that have sprouted out of the Standard Model may be answered.
The Standard Model has been, so far, the most accurate theory explaining the most fundamental workings and composition of matter. It stands as the most reliable recipe for particle physicists, serving as a guide that encompasses quarks, leptons, bosons and others. It also deals with the four interactions: gravitational, weak, electromagnetic, and strong.
Despite its success, the Standard Model is not without some deficiencies. Among them is its inability to explain the origin of mass, the lack of antimatter, and more information regarding dark matter. Only with higher energies than what these physicists’ current set of toys can generate can they hope to extract answers and push the knowledge boundaries of high energy physics even further.
We’ve got a few articles that touch on high energy physics here in Universe Today. Here are two of them:
- Rare Binary Pulsars Provide High Energy Physics Lab
- New Particle Throws Monkeywrench in Particle Physics
Physics World also has some more:
Tired eyes? Let your ears help you learn for a change. Here are some episodes from Astronomy Cast that just might suit your taste: