One step closer to unlocking the universe’s secrets

The quest to understand the mysteries of the universe took another step forward last month as the final piece of the ATLAS detector was lowered into place in Geneva at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, commonly known as CERN.

ATLAS is one of the largest collaborative efforts in the physical sciences and includes a team of Carleton University physicists, research fellows and graduate students. It is a particle physics experiment that will explore the nature of matter and the forces that shape our universe.

The ATLAS detector is the world’s most powerful microscope that will act as a kind of time machine allowing scientitsts to look at particle interactions which would only have occurred naturally in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang.

“Not only will ATLAS help unlock more secrets about the nature of matter but the kind of physics involved will have huge implications for all of us like fundamental physics experiments did at the turn of the 20th century,” says Professor Gerald Oakham, leader of Carleton’s ATLAS team.

“There are aspects of this project such as the large-scale use of superconductivity technology and processing of data using grid technology which could be exploited by industry for applications from power distribution to commercial data transfers.” The ATLAS detector system is the size of a five-storey building and weighs about 7,000 tons.

It is located 100 meters underground.

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will produce high energy particle collisions in the centre of ATLAS. Using the detector, physicists will measure the debris from these collisions.

The final piece has the ability to track the paths of particles to an accuracy of a fraction of a millimeter thus measuring the direction and energy.

Carleton has contributed two energy measuring modules for ATLAS, which are already installed at CERN. The university’s team is comprised of Professor Oakham, Professor Manuella Vincter, a Canada Research Chair in Particle Physics, and Professor David Asner. There are also two research associates as well as several doctoral students participating.

Carleton’s physics department offers its students an opportunity to be involved with ATLAS as well as research at SNOLAB in Sudbury. Carleton is also a full partner in Triumf, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics.

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