Though the launch of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator was marked by a ding instead of a bang, the Large Hadron Collider still holds the promise of unlocking secrets about the essence of matter and insights into the Big Bang.

Brad Cox Dan Addison

“Soon we may shed light on dark matter and many other mysteries of the universe, such as the Higgs particle, which we believe gives mass to every other particle in nature,” says Brad Cox, professor of physics at UVA. Principal investigator with the University’s High Energy Physics Group, Cox has been involved with the planning and instrument design for the collider since its inception in 1993.

The collider, a 17-mile-round underground facility near Geneva, is designed to send opposing beams of protons around the accelerator to cause high-energy collisions that will shatter the protons and produce new particles.

The first beam of protons moving at nearly the speed of light circulated the collider in early September. Shortly after that launch, though, a fault in an electrical connection between two magnets caused a helium leak, leading to a shutdown. The collider is scheduled to be back on line in the spring.

Scientists hope that experiments at the $3.2 billion collider will bring better understanding of the most basic structure of matter, how the universe formed and evolved, and possibly how it will change. They are searching for evidence of the existence of the Higgs particle, which is theorized to be the essence of all matter.