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Particle Physicist Bring Mysteries Of Mass To Moogfest

Courtesy CERN
The Large Hadron Collider is the largest machine on earth. Scientists with the CERN's particle accelerator are working to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

In a cavern 100 meters below the surface of the earth, physicists are constructing the universe – theoretically at least. Physicist Kate Shaw is a researcher studying CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. She works specifically on the 7,000 ton ATLAS detector that is investigating fundamental particles. 

Host Frank Stasio talks with Shaw about her research on dark matter, and how observing the high-speed collision of particles helps scientists better understand the origins of the universe. Shaw is a keynote speakerat this year’sMoogfest festivalin Durham, which kicks off tonight. 


On studying experiments within the Large Hadron Collider:

We work on the ATLAS experiment, so this is a detector that surrounds the collision of these tiny protons. And every time the protons collide they are making particles that existed at the very beginning of the universe, and this is what we want to study.

On the challenge of documenting disappearing particles:

The most interesting particles are of course the ones that don’t exist everyday around us. They are the ones that existed at the beginning of the universe. Like, for example, the Higgs boson. And one of the reasons they don't exist everyday is they’re at a higher mass. That means they’re slightly bigger particles. And slightly bigger particles tend to decay into lighter particles. So as soon as you create one of these interesting particles, like a Higgs boson or another big particle, it decays.

On Shaw’s interest in black matter:

It’s plain to see that the amount of matter we can see, so the stars, the planets, doesn’t make up the full amount of matter the universe actually has, which we can tell from numerous observations. And about 25 percent of the universe is made of dark matter which we can’t see and therefore we don’t know any information about.

On what we know about the big bang:

We only really know about a trillionth of a second after the big bang, so we can’t tell you what happened at the big bang yet. But what we understand is that energy was created - fundamental forces began to manifest themselves, and particles began to manifest themselves as well. So everything started off as energy, and then energy gets turned into these matter particles.

On creating micro black holes at CERN and the theories behind them:

At the very beginning of the universe, along with all the particles that were made, primordial black holes are also made. So this is a collapse in space time due to large amount of matter. If primordial black holes did exist after the big bang at a trillionth of a second, we would like to be able to study them. But there must be understood that they’re not the same as cosmological black holes.

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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