Insight into the Subatomic World
Particle accelerators enable physicists to probe the very nature of matter and energy, and in the past half century, hundreds of new particles have been discovered. The accelerators do as their name suggests: using electromagnetic fields, they accelerate charged particles through the partial vacuum of a tube, and then orchestrate high-energy collisions. This often causes elementary particles to break apart and form new particles. Physicists are usually attempting to find new particles proposed in theory, so the particles are naturally monitored. Surrounding the collision point are detectors that measures their exact paths, which helps with identification—similar to how animal tracks are identified, as factors like size, shape, pattern, direction and depth reveal vital information. Detectors include a tracking device—there are many types, including the very adorably named spark chambers, bubble chambers, and cloud chambers. When ionizing particles pass through the sensitive substances inside these chambers, their paths are detectable by the disturbances they make. The detectors also often include a magnetic field. Particles normally travel in a straight line, but the magnetic field bends a particle’s path and the curvature helps with identification—particles with high momentum continue travelling straight, but ones with lower momentum move in tight spirals like you can see in these amazing images.
Check out these particle accelerators around the world