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Published: Tuesday, 12/15/2009

Worlds in collision

IF YOU'RE reading this, then the Large Hadron Collider in Europe hasn't created a black hole that swallowed the planet.

After opening last year to great fanfare and some doomsday fear, the $10 billion atom-smasher faced immediate glitches. It was shut down within days.

There were sighs of relief from those who expected the LHC to end life as we know it, but for the 8,000 scientists from 40 nations who helped design and build the world's largest particle accelerator, it was a public relations disaster.

For the last year, scientists have made adjustments and double-checked procedures to make sure everything was safe. Far from being a doomsday device, the LHC will explore the physical structure of the universe by observing what happens when particles collide in the 17-mile underground loop straddling the French and Swiss borders.

Operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the LHC was restarted Nov. 20 and is humming along as designed. So far, more than 100 particle collisions have been recorded at relatively low speeds. Eventually, collisions at higher speeds will test the technology in unprecedented ways. The fireworks will yield information about the subatomic level.

Physicists from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University helped with the design of components used by the LHC. This is a shared moment of glory across the globe. Science is on its way to unraveling the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy, and even the Big Bang.

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