Everything you need to know about the Large Hadron Collider, CERN and the Higgs boson

Need to impress a sexy physics fan or wow your boss with your massive brain? Our idiot's guide to the LHC will turn you into an expert in five easy steps

The Large Hadron Collider is back up and running, but what the heck is the big ring thing all about? We present our bluffer's guide to the fun, frolics, facts and physics that powers the most expensive thingamabob ever built. What's the LHC, what's it doing, and why? All will be revealed -- with no maths required. When you're done, make sure you check out our, er, in-depth interview with one of the scientists who works there.

What is CERN?

CERN does particle physics, which means studying the fundamental particles -- the basic constituents of matter. The goal is to find out what the universe is made of and how it works.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they're made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions. From these results, scientists learn about a particle's properties, such as mass and charge.

What is the 'hadron' in the Large Hadron Collider?

There are 17 known fundamental particles -- six quarks, six leptons and five bosons (not counting the theoretical Higgs boson) -- and their corresponding anti-particles. They are called 'fundamental' or 'elementary' particles because they have no smaller constituent parts.

The quarks combine in various combinations to form other particles, such as protons and neutrons. Collectively, all the particles that are made up of quarks are called 'hadrons'. The LHC collides protons, which are hadrons -- that's why it's called the Large Hadron Collider.

Bosons -- not to be confused with rum-swilling, cat-swinging bosuns -- are the force-carrying particles. Examples of bosons are the photon and the hypothetical Higgs boson, which is being sought by the Atlas and CMS experiments at the LHC.

All this knowledge about the fundamental particles and how they interact is called the 'standard model' -- but there's more to discover, and that's the goal of the LHC.

What is the Higgs boson?

We don't know what causes the fundamental particles to have masses. There's a theory that mass comes from the particles interacting with an (as yet unobserved) particle called the Higgs boson. The more they interact, the heavier they become, whereas particles that never interact are left with no mass at all.

The Higgs boson is named after physicist Peter Higgs. Its nickname is 'the God particle'. Higgs himself calls it "the particle named after me".

Click 'Continue' below to find out more about the Large Hadron Collider, or watch our Bluffer's Guide below.

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