Posted by: Pradeep | September 15, 2008

Big Bang and Indian Brains

The world’s biggest experiment ever to recreate Big Bang, continuing underground along the Swiss-French border, has energised Indian nuclear scientists and engineers to the hilt and for the right reasons. 

For starters, they put together crucial components to activate the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) much below the sanctioned costs and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research spearheading the experiment, reacted with a surprise gesture. It left the balance money to finance the visits of Indian scientists to the experiment site. 

The mettle of Indian scientists was such that CERN, otherwise a closed European scientific association with taxing entry standards, granted India “observer” status, a laurel that China hasn’t got so far. Indian scientists had been collaborating with CERN for the LHC experiment since 1991 and over the years, they proved their worth so much so that all precision-made jacks on which the entire machine rests were made in India. In a sense, the jacks, which can be adjusted to 10-20 micron level, form the very foundation of the collider. 

Besides the jacks, nearly 2,000 corrector magnets and circuit breakers were made in India in association with CERN scientists. The Delhi-based IUAC is one of the four Indian institutions that has an accelerator installed, although it is tiny compared to the 27-km-long LHC. The other three are in Mumbai, Kolkata and Indore. 

Besides contributing 100 scientists to the effort, India’s involvement in the project has put the country in the big league. The development of machines gave the Indian scientists to work on technologies of the highest level, validating the country’s capabilities. Work on LHC’s sequel, the 33-km-long International Linear Collider, amply indicates the high value Indian scientists now command. The global design team for the electron-positron collider, which should be ready for experiment by 2016, wants full-fledged participation of India at all stages. 

Besides the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), Indian institutions participating in LHC experiment include Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (Indore), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (Trombay), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai), Banaras Hindu University, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (Kolkata), and universities of Delhi, Punjab and Jaipur. 

Besides re-enacting the Big Bang at a highly miniature scale, the experiment could solve the mystery of Higgs boson, or ‘God particle’, understood theoretically to be the basis of all matter as well anti-matter and dark matter. 

Only 4-5% of the universe’s content is matter and 25% is invisible dark matter. There is no anti-particle or anti-matter in the universe, although it must exist theoretically. As high as 75% of the universe consists of dark energy about which very little is known. The LHC experiment could help scientists solve some of this puzzle, which is directly linked to the eternal question about how we all came into being.


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