Sitting in the cafeteria in CERN particle physics laboratory, Jeremiah Mans was just thinking about how smoothly everything leading up to the first scheduled run of the Large Hadron Collider had gone when a colleague informed him that there would be a delay with the run.
âÄúAt that point we thought the problem might be a couple of days, not a whole year or more,âÄù Mans said.
Mans, a University of Minnesota physics professor, has visited the lab in Geneva, Switzerland, three or four times a year for the past eight years.
âÄúThat was really challenging for everybody from a morale point of view because it was a really big surprise,âÄù Mans said of the 2008 setback.
After delays that have spawned rumors of visits from time travelers and birds crippling the LHC by dropping bread crumbs from above, the high-profile particle accelerator is now in full operation, marveling physicists like Mans.
Mans, who traveled to Geneva this week to be at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has been working on the sometimes controversial particle accelerator since 2002.
âÄúThe big question is how particles can have masses,âÄù Mans said.
The LHC will attempt to solve some of physicsâÄô toughest questions while shedding light on the fundamentals of the universe, especially its origins.
The LHC essentially sends charged particles at high speeds around an underground track measuring 17 miles in circumference. When the particles collide, the impact triggers a âÄúmini Big Bang.âÄù
Since joining the School of Astronomy and Physics six years ago, Mans has been instrumental in the schoolâÄôs involvement with CERN and the LHC.
âÄúJeremiah is a major contributor to the CMS experiment,âÄù said Ronald Poling, head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, referring to the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, one of two major projects involving the collider.
This week, Mans traveled to Geneva to be present at collaboration week, a week dedicated to talking about all the issues that face the project.
âÄúItâÄôs a very important and complicated task,âÄù Mans said. âÄúYou have to coordinate the work from different countries and get it all to mesh nicely.âÄù
The CMS project involves more than 2,000 scientists and is built like a Russian nesting doll with layers upon layers that take measurements from particles. The partnership is the largest scientific collaboration in history, Poling said.
âÄúThis is a scale that I could have never imagined,âÄù he said.
More than 25 University physicists have worked on the project, including two University students that work full-time in Geneva at CERN.
Martin Schroeder was only a University first year when he started working with Mans for CERN.
âÄúWhen youâÄôre doing the work, it isnâÄôt really apparent how incredible the whole project is,âÄù Schroeder said. âÄúWhen you sit back and wonder how everything is working together, it is really impressive.âÄù Schroeder said.
In the past month, CERN has been using the LHC to run tests where lead ions collide in the tunnel in hopes of figuring out how quarks, the fundamental constituent of matter, interact.
ItâÄôs been very successful, Mans said. âÄúA lot of spectacular results and papers have already come from it.âÄù
Scientists at the lab are now focusing their attention on understanding the data produced from the collisions, hoping to present their findings at conferences in March 2011.
Soon, the LHC will be used in the hunt for dark matter, mysterious material that doesnâÄôt give off or absorb light.
âÄúYou would think we would know a lot more about [the fundamentals of the universe],âÄù Mans said. âÄúBut we donâÄôt.âÄù