Particle collisions in Batavia
Matter and antimatter have opposite charge. When particles and antiparticles collide, they annihilate and mass is transformed into energy. The energy released in such collisions can produce other, perhaps unknown particles. The particle physicists at Fermilab, near Chicago, operate the world's most powerful machine, the Tevatron, to produce collisions of protons and antiprotons. In a four-mile ring the particles crash into each other at a speed of 99.99996 percent of the speed of light. Every collision exposes the building blocks of a proton and an antiproton -- quarks, antiquarks and gluons -- and leads to the production of hundreds of new particles, which decay within a fraction of a second. The particles produce electrical signals in Fermilab's particle detectors CDF and D0, "cameras" as big as a house. The 6000-ton instruments register the tracks and properties of the particles emerging from each collision.
Analyzing the date of millions of collisions, physicists are studying the fundamental processes that are responsible for the production of new particles. In 1995, Fermilab discovered the top quark, an elementary particle that is as heavy as a gold atom. Yet it is much smaller than a proton. The discovery of such elementary particles provides clues to the processes that happened within a millionth of a microsecond after the big bang and that have deeply influenced the evolution of our universe.
In each of the collisions shown here there could be a top quark -- or perhaps a yet-to-be-discovered particle. 25 percent of all energy and mass of our universe consists of dark matter. Only the most powerful particle accelerators might some day be capable of producing the building blocks of dark matter. (Prof. Michael Kobel)
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