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Large Hadron Collider "Big Bang" Analogies Put Under Microscope

Physicist Thomas LeCompte explains how the Large Hadron Collider's output will differ from the big bang--and what they have in common. Steve Mirsky reports

Popular accounts of the Large Hadron Collider often say it’s trying to approximate the conditions at the big bang.

“One of the things that’s different is this is a much simpler situation, right? We have a lot of energy in a small space, like you did at the Big Bang. But you don’t have a whole universe in a small space.”

Thomas LeCompte of Argonne National Lab is the physics coordinator for what’s called the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. We spoke at the AAAS meeting in Washington on February 20th.

“When we run protons, we only start with two particles rather than the, I don’t know, 10 to the 50th or however many particles there are in the visible universe. So it’s a much simpler system.

"That said, it’s not a completely bad analogy either. We know that the universe is expanding and cooling, so earlier on it was smaller and hotter. And we are studying the properties of small, hot things. But I don’t like saying that because it gives people the idea that the only thing we’re doing is really trying to turn back the clock. We’re also trying to just in general study the behavior of matter, energy, space and time on small scales.”

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

The full interview with Tom LeCompte will be featured on an upcoming episode of Science Talk, the weekly Scientific American podcast.

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