Skip to content
Science, Maths & Technology

Why do we need a Large Hadron Collider?

Updated Monday 11th February 2013

If particle collisions like the ones in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) are happening all the time, then why do we need to build the LHC?

Large Hadron Collider Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: CERN Large Hadron Collider  Watch this animated video on the Large Hadron Collider

If particle collisions like the ones in the LHC are happening all the time, then why do we need to build the LHC? Cosmic rays are coming in from space all the time, getting trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, and being squirted down to the North and South magnetic poles. You could in principle build a particle detector there, and just sample the collisions that are happening naturally.

The trouble is you won't have any control over the types of particles coming in, so it can be quite hard to set up experiments. This turns out to be an insurmountable problem for the scientific questions that the LHC is there to answer, so the only way is to build the LHC and to do our own collisions.

The naturally-occurring particle collisions can still do something very useful for the LHC: they demonstrate that the LHC particle collisions pose no risk to the safety of the Earth or the Universe. In fact cosmic rays can get to even higher energies than the LHC reach, and they've been hitting the Moon and the Earth and the other planets for billions of years.

The Moon and planets are still there, which is a very strong argument for the LHC's safety. If you take an even wider view the safety looks even stronger. Across the whole Universe, the natural high energy particle collisions are equivalent to 10 million million LHC-like experiments every second. The very existence of galaxies and stars is a very strong argument for the safety of the LHC.

 

Question: Particle physicists sometimes describe their Standard Model of Particle Physics as "elegant" or "beautiful". Do you think these are words that should be used to describe scientific theories? Are there other theories that you could describe as elegant or beautiful? Share your answers using the Comments facility.

Further reading:

 

Find out more about the safety of the LHC 

Read more about particle physics with these articles and videos:  

 

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

60 Second Adventures in Astronomy: Large Hadron Collider video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

60 Second Adventures in Astronomy: Large Hadron Collider

Turns out the Large Hadron Collider is not as dangerous as we thought

Video

Science, Maths & Technology 

The Large Hadron Collider

To mark the re-launch of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, this album examines how an accelerator works, why the LHC failed in 2008 and what scientists hope its high-energy collisions will reveal. The audio tracks feature Dr Stephen Serjeant and Dr David Broadhurst from The Open University and Dr Dan Faircloth and Dr Bruce Kennedy from the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. They share their passion for this immense machine that will recreate, on a tiny scale, conditions that existed just after the Big Bang. It is hoped the LHC will provide a glimpse of the theoretical Higgs boson and explain the origin of mass. It may also discover a new family of supersymmetric particles and provide an insight into the nature of dark matter. Looking to the future, there is a sneak preview of the LHC upgrade plans, and a particle accelerator of the future, the Next Linear Collider.

Audio
30 mins
Sir Bernard Lovell: An appreciation Creative commons image Icon Robert Alexander & doramusic.com under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Sir Bernard Lovell: An appreciation

Sir Bernard Lovell died on August 7th, 2012. Stephen Serjeant celebrates his contribution to science - and to the war effort.

Article
Kathy's Carriacou diary: Music Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Kathy's Carriacou diary: Music

Kathy Sykes's Science of Celebration diary, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 2

Article
Teleportation: Weblinks Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Open2 team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Teleportation: Weblinks

Find out more about teleportation with our weblinks and suggested reading

Article
Uncertain principles Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Uncertain principles

Get to grips with Heisenbergs uncertainty principle

Article
Making contact Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Making contact

If there are other lives being led in the galaxy, how will we get to know about them?

Article
Challenge: Distillation of Seawater Using Solar Power Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Challenge: Distillation of Seawater Using Solar Power

Our Rough Scientists took a challenge to distill water using just the sun - here's how they did it...

Article
Kathy's Carriacou diary: Transmitter Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Kathy's Carriacou diary: Transmitter

Kathy Sykes's Time and Transmitters diary, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 2

Article