Sheffield scientists unravel mysteries of the universe

Scientists at the University of Sheffield are moving one step closer to solving some of the universe's biggest mysteries.

The scientists are due to take part as the world's largest physics experiment gets underway at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, near Geneva.

Hailed as one of the most significant moments in modern science, the first attempt to circulate a beam in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - the world's most powerful man-made particle accelerator, will be made on September 10.

The LHC is CERN's newest facility and hopes to answer some of the biggest mysteries of the universe by searching for evidence of dark matter, extra dimensions, supersymmetry and the origin of mass.

The accelerator will smash protons together in a 27km long underground tunnel, and record the results in detectors the size of cathedrals.

Once fully operational it will recreate conditions that existed billionths of a second after time began and seek answers to some of the deepest mysteries of the origins and workings of our universe.

The team at Sheffield, led by Dr Dan Tovey of the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, are involved in the ATLAS experiment which hopes to find answers to two of our biggest unsolved mysteries: How did the universe begin and how does it work?

ATLAS is one of the four specially built detectors which will run at the LHC. It is designed to observe and detect what happens when high energy particles collide and will explore the fundamental nature of matter and the basic forces that shape our universe.

The experiment, which is one of the largest collaborative efforts in the physical sciences, is expected to continue running until at least 2015.

Dr Tovey and colleagues are central to the project and have been heavily involved in the key aspects of building the experiment.

Along with other UK institutes they were given the vital task of creating the SCT tracking detector, which is located right at the centre of ATLAS, surrounding the region where all the collisions will take place.

The team have also been involved in writing the software which will process all the data that ATLAS creates. This is a most important aspect of the research, as this is what researchers hope will ultimately reveal supersymmetry and the Higgs Boson particle.

Discovery of the Higgs Boson particle will explain the origin of mass in the universe.

Moreover, it is the last particle that still needs to be discovered in the Standard Model, which is the handbook of all the particles we currently know.

Proving the theory of supersymmetry will add another volume to the Standard Model, and will explain the existence of the mysterious 'dark matter' observed by astronomers. With these discoveries, we will be one step closer to knowing just how the universe began and how it works.

Dr Dan Tovey said:

"The leap forward that the LHC represents almost guarantees that we shall see something interesting. We hope to find evidence for a new particle called the Higgs boson, which is believed to be the origin of mass.

"We might also find something even more exotic, such as dark matter particles or evidence for extra space-time dimensions. Whatever we see, we can be sure that it will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe."