An introduction to an introduction? A bit ridiculous I know, but bear with me.
This is by no means the first introduction ever written to collider physics for the general audience, but it's my take on it. If you know me personally, I guess that might help to keep your attention longer, right?
The end goal here is for you to walk away with a sense of what collider physics is all about. It should help answer questions along the lines of what the world's biggest particle accelerators like the LHC actually do, and why you should care.
The focus here is of course on the big picture. I'm skipping the math, bypassing a ton of additional things I could have talked about, and I'm making some simplifications in some of the statements being made. That said, it's not my intention here to say anything incorrect – i.e. to say something that's not technically true in order to keep it easier to understand. So here it is, a chance to arm yourself such that you're able to jump into the conversation when particle physics comes up at a party. You know, as it always does.
Ultimately this is about outreach and giving more exposure to the subject: we're lucky there are so many buzz words in particle physics – LHC, Higgs Boson, Dark Matter, just to name a few – which pop up in the news all the time. You've probably heard them before. Particle physics gets great media coverage as it is and manages to capture the imaginations of the general pubic. While we're lucky that's the case, we also shouldn't take it for granted. It's easy for areas of science to slip into obscurity as soon as they're not being talked about in coffee shops, at parties, or on the bus. We (you!) need to talk about particle physics in order for it to remain relevant to us, especially when it otherwise seems so removed from our day-to-day lives.
I've split this intro into three major sections, and each of these is in smaller more bite-sized pieces, for a total of ten (hopefully) digestible portions:
Parts 1 - 3 set the stage: what are the smallest, most fundamental particles we know about in the universe? How can these smallest pieces be combined to make the larger objects we see? Why are some of these so-called fundamental particles seemingly so common, while others don't seem to be present anywhere at all? How do we even know the heavier particles exist? How can we create them, why do we want to create them, and why do we need a particle accelerator like the LHC to do so?
Moving into Parts 4 - 7 we get to the actual instruments, such as the ATLAS detector, and how we use them to probe nature at its smallest scale: How do the fundamental particles we introduced earlier interact with the material of the ATLAS detector once they're produced? How does this help us get at the information we care about? What is it that's really being measured in the detector?
Finally in Parts 8 - 10 we learn how measurements are made by the physicists by analyzing the data from the ATLAS experiment: What's the difference between performing a search for so-called 'new physics' and making a precision measurement of something we already know exists? How do we know what it is we're seeing? How is the vast amount of data handled? What if we see something totally unexpected?
Note that in all of this I focus on the ATLAS experiment since it's the one I happen to work on, but the LHC is just one example of an accelerator, and ATLAS is just one example of a collider experiment – there are others! Also there are plenty of other types of particle physics experiments that exist but which don't involve collider physics...So just remember that I'm focusing on a small realm of physics here (the coolest realm, naturally).
I made most of the images you'll see using Keynote.
Ok, so here goes...
Click on the first link below to get started, or jump back to where you last left off.
Introduction to Collider Physics – Main Menu
Interested in a live Presentation?
I've also created a presentation out of the content shown here. In the off chance that you're a teacher in or around Munich and you're interested in having me give this presentation to your group of students, feel free to contact me. I can adjust the content as needed to fit your time constraints and/or the level of your students.