'Beautiful physics' at Collider exhibition in Manchester

Visitor at MOSI Image copyright CHRIS FOSTER
Image caption The Collider exhibition is running in Manchester until September

By the time you have read this sentence, a particle in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could have travelled around the world 30 times.

That's just one of the facts featured within the Collider exhibition at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). It hopes to recreate what it's like to visit the biggest physics experiment in the world.

The huge 27km (17 miles) underground circular tunnel in Geneva is exploring some of the fundamental questions in "big physics" by colliding proton particles together to discover the nature of matter.

It hit the headlines in 2012 when a particle consistent with the Higgs boson, which explains how matter attains its mass, was announced to a whooping and cheering auditorium.

Jean Franczyk, MOSI director, said the Collider exhibition is "the most beautiful thing you will ever see about physics".

It includes 270-degree projection screens to explain what the LHC has discovered so far, starting with a film featuring the now famous auditorium scene.

Image copyright Chris Foster
Image caption Collider includes a video depicting the detectors inside the LHC at work

The film then moves on to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) control room, where Prof Brian Cox makes an unlikely cameo appearance as a tea boy.

The physicist and broadcaster said: "CERN is an extraordinary place and the exhibition team have done a great job of capturing the excitement, awe and wonder of the LHC and physics."

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Media captionBrian Cox visits the Collider exhibition at MOSI in Manchester.

As well as helping to explain what the thousands of scientists and engineers based at CERN do, it also displays the sense of community there.

Images of pin boards at the research centre show listings for cinema trips and running clubs.

A bike, used to get around the LHC tunnel, is balanced against a mock-up of the scuffed underground walls.

Image copyright Chris Foster
Image caption A bike hire scheme is used at CERN to help scientists and engineers move around 27km of tunnel

Jeff Forshaw, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester, who has spent time working at CERN, said the centre "cuts across politics".

He said: "Everyone there is just drawn together by a common goal of trying to find out how the universe is working.

"As a result, this fantastic co-operation has led to the construction of this project, which I would rank up there alongside the moon landings as the greatest, most adventurous enterprise the human race has pulled off."

Image copyright Anna Pantelia/CERN
Image caption The Large Hadron Collider will be used to probe the dark matter mystery when it re-starts in 2015

LHC is currently being upgraded, with the work aiming to double the energy of what's already the most powerful particle accelerator in the world.

Image copyright Chris Foster
Image caption A hydrogen gas canister used as a source of protons in 2012 features in the exhibition

Scientists believe the upgrade will enable them to discover new particles which will lead to a more complete theory of how the universe works.

The exhibition features several items from the LHC, including a hydrogen gas canister used as a source of protons in 2012.

Alison Boyle, lead curator of Collider, said she hoped the exhibition gave a "sense of scale" of the ongoing experiments at CERN.

She said: "The underground caverns are five storeys high, particles are invisible and we can't see them. Even at CERN itself you can never get a sense of the whole thing, it's spread across the borders of two countries."

"Not everyone is lucky enough to go to CERN - we wanted to bring it to them," she added.

Collider runs at MOSI in Manchester from 23 May to 28 September, before going on an international tour.

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