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Todd Adams is a professor of physics at Florida State University, and a member of the High Energy Physics Group that is working on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland.

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He joins the show to discuss the details of this fascinating work, such as the following:

  • How gravitational lensing allows for the estimation of the mass of unseen objects, and how this is used to investigate dark matter
  • In what ways the standard model of particle physics fails to address critical questions and observations in physics
  • What WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) are and why Adams is hoping to produce them in the proton-proton collisions taking place in the Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider is the “world’s largest scientific experiment,” says Adams. It is a particle accelerator that was built underground in Geneva, Switzerland, and is about 17 miles in circumference.

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It accelerates protons in a circle at a speed close to that of light, with the purpose of observing what happens when protons collide.

These collisions are the highest energy collisions ever created in a lab. As many people know from the famous equation E= MC2, energy can be converted to mass, which is the goal at the Hadron Collider; the creation and study of new particles from these high-energy collisions.

Adams explains the details of the CMS experiment, which uses a detector five stories in height and 12,000 tons in weight that’s designed to detect the particles produced by the high-energy collision of protons. Once the particles have been identified, the goal is to reconstruct precisely what happened at the time of the collision.

So, what’s the ultimate purpose of these experiments? Adams explains that the standard model of particle physics does an excellent job of explaining most of what we see in the world, but it leaves some compelling questions and observations unanswered, namely what’s called “dark matter.” One theory to explain dark matter is the presence of a particle that doesn’t interact like normal matter in that it does not interact with light, with the exception of the gravitational effects of light.

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Adams also discusses why it becomes harder to accelerate a particle to higher velocities as the particle approaches the speed of light, how protons are brought to such high speeds, the importance of the search for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), the significance of the Higgs boson, the uncertainty principle from quantum physics, and so much more.

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