7th Feb 2014

The ALICE experiment

Ever wonder what exactly goes on inside the Large Hadron Collider? Sure, it studies the physics of the universe at a very small scale, but what kind of detectors does it boast, and what are they trying to detect?

Well, one detector is called ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment—give the person who named it an award, please). Located in St Genis-Pouilly, France, it’s basically a heavy-ion detector, designed study how strongly interacting matter behaves at extreme energy densities. In this kind of situation, a weird phase of matter called quark-gluon plasma forms. The nuclei of atoms are made up of protons and neutrons, which are in turn made up of quarks, and these are bound together by gluons—no quark has ever been observed in isolation, only with gluons. By smashing together electrically-charged lead atoms and generating temperatures 100,000 hotter than the sun’s core, ALICE is trying to “melt” protons and neutrons and release quarks from their gluon bonds, thus creating the plasma.

Quark-gluon plasma was in existence just after the Big Bang, when the universe was so incredibly hot that matter was essentially in a “liquid” state. By studying how plasma forms, expands, and cools, ALICE will hopefully give us clues about how matter in the Universe today came to be.

(Image Credit: CERN/ALICEinfo)

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