Particle physicists study Nature at its most fundamental level by observing particle collisions. By understanding the properties of the various types of particles and the forces that govern them, we can learn about the origins of the Universe itself. Use the menu to explore recent results and publications from the CMS Collaboration.

The CMS Collaboration has a broad physics programme, ranging from measurements of the Standard Model and the recently discovered Higgs boson, to studies of heavy-ion collisions, to searches for new particles, phenomena, and even extra dimensions in the Universe. 

Learn More About Scientific Results

Anonymous (not verified)

Recipe for a Universe

Recipe for a Universe Anonymous (not verified)

Take a massive explosion to create plenty of stardust and a raging heat. Simmer for an eternity in a background of cosmic microwaves. Let the ingredients congeal and leave to cool and serve cold with cultures of tiny organisms 13.7 billion years later.

To understand the basic ingredients and the ‘cooking conditions’ of the cosmos, from the beginning of time to the present day, particle physicists have to try and reverse-engineer the ‘dish’ of the Universe. Within the complex concoction, cryptic clues hide the instructions for the cosmic recipe.

Slowly simmer

Space, time, matter... everything originated in the Big Bang, an incommensurably huge explosion that happened 13.7 billion years ago. The Universe was then incredibly hot and dense but only a few moments after, as it started to cool down, the conditions were just right to give rise to the building blocks of matter – in particular, the quarks and electrons of which we are all made. A few millionths of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons, which in turn were bundled into nuclei three minutes later.

Then, as the Universe continued to expand and cool, things began to happen more slowly. It took 380,000 years for the electrons to be trapped in orbits around nuclei, forming the first atoms. These were mainly helium and hydrogen, which are still by far the most abundant elements in the Universe.

Another 1.6 million years later, gravity began to take control as clouds of gas began to form stars and galaxies. Since then, the heavier atoms of which we are all made (such as carbon, oxygen, and iron) have been continuously ‘cooked’ in the hearts of the stars. They are stirred in with the rest of the Universe each time a star comes to a spectacular end as a supernova.


The mystery ingredient

So far so good, but there is one small detail left out: cosmological and astrophysical observations have now shown that all of the above accounts for only a tiny 4% of the entire Universe. In a way, it is not so much the visible things, such as planets and galaxies, that define the Universe, but rather the void around them!

Most of the Universe is made up of invisible substances known as 'dark matter' (26%) and 'dark energy' (70%). These do not emit electromagnetic radiation, and we detect them only through their gravitational effects. What they are and what role they played in the evolution of the Universe are mysteries, but within this darkness lie intriguing possibilities of hitherto undiscovered physics beyond the established Standard Model.

Story of the Universe

Story of the Universe

From the Big Bang to Today's Universe

t < 10-43 s : The Big Bang
The universe is considered to have expanded from a single point with an infinitely high energy density (infinite temperature). Is there a meaning to the question "What existed before the big bang?"


Quantum gravity era (10-43s)

t ≈ 10-43 s, 1032 K (1019 GeV, 10-34m): Gravity “freezes” out All particle types (quarks, leptons, gauge bosons, and undiscovered particles e.g. Higgs, sparticles, gravitons) and their anti-particles are in thermal equilibrium, meaning they are created and annihilated at an equal rate. They coexist with radiation (photons). Through a phase transition, gravity "freezes" out and becomes distinct in its action from the weak, electromagnetic, and strong forces. At this time, the other three forces cannot be distinguished from one another in their action on quarks and leptons. This is the first instance of the breaking of symmetry amongst the forces.


Grand unification era (10-35s)
Inflation ceases, expansion continues
Grand Unification breaks. Strong and electroweak
forces become distinguishable

t ≈ 10-35 s, 1027 K (1016 GeV, 10-32 m) : Inflation The rate of expansion increases exponentially for a short period of time. The universe doubles in size every 10-34 s. Inflation stops at around 10-32 s, by which time the universe has increased in size by a factor of 1050. This is equivalent to an object the size of a proton swelling to 1019 light years across!
The whole universe is estimated to have had a size of ~1023 m at the end of the period of inflation. The universe we can see today, however, was only 3 m in size after inflation. This solves the problems of ‘horizon’ (how is it possible for two opposing parts of the present universe to be at the same temperature when they cannot have interacted with each other before recombination?) and ‘flatness’ (density of matter is close to the critical density).

t ≈ 10-32 s : Strong forces freezes out Through another phase transition the strong force "freezes" out and a slight excess of matter over anti-matter develops. This excess, at a level of 1 part in a billion, is sufficient to give the presently observed dominance of matter over anti-matter. The temperature is too high for quarks to remain clumped to form neutrons or protons and so they exist in the form of a quark-gluon plasma. The LHC can study this by colliding together high-energy nuclei.


Electroweak era (10-10 s)
Electroweak force splits

t ≈ 10-10 s, 1015 K (100 GeV, 10-18 m) : Electromagnetic and Weak Forces separate The energy density corresponds to that at LEP. As the temperature falls, the weak force "freezes" out and all four forces become distinct in their actions. The antiquarks annihilate with the quarks, leaving a residual excess of matter. W and Z bosons decay. In general, unstable massive particles disappear when the temperture falls to a value at which photons from the black-body radiation do not have sufficient energy to create a particle-antiparticle pair.


Protons and neutrons form (10-4 s)  
Quarks combine to make protons and neutrons

t ≈ 10-4 s, 1013  K (1 GeV, 10-16 m) : Protons and Neutrons form The universe has grown to the size of our solar system. As the temperature drops, quark-antiquark annihilation stops and the remaining quarks combine to make protons and neutrons.

t = 1 s, 1010 (1 MeV, 10-15 m) : Neutrinos decouple The neutrinos become inactive (essentially, they do not participate further in interactions). The electrons and positrons annihilate and are not recreated. An excess of electrons is left. The neutron-proton ratio shifts from 50:50 to 25:75.


Nuclei are formed (100 s)  
Protons and neutrons combine to form helium nuclei

t = 3 minutes, 109 K (0.1 MeV, 10-12 m) : Nuclei are formed The temperature is low enough to allow nuclei to be formed. Conditions are similar to those that exist in stars today or in thermonuclear bombs. Heavier nuclei such as deuterium, helium, and lithium soak up the neutrons that are present. Any remaining neutrons decay with a time constant of ~ 1000 seconds. The neutron-proton ratio is now 13:87. The bulk constitution of the universe is now in place, consisting essentially of protons (75%) and helium nuclei. The temperature is still too high to form any atoms. Electrons form a gas of free particles.


Atoms and light era (300 000 years)
The Universe becomes transparent and fills with light

t = 300 000 years, 6000 K (0.5 eV, 10-10 m) : Atoms are created Electrons begin to stick to nuclei. Atoms of hydrogen, helium, and lithium are created. Radiation is no longer energetic enough to break atoms. The universe becomes transparent. Matter density dominates. Astronomy can study the evolution of the Universe back to this time.



Galaxy formation (1000 million years)  
Galaxies begin to form

t = 109 years, 18 K : Galaxy Formation Local mass density fluctuations act as seeds for stellar and galaxy formation (the exact mechanism is still not understood). Nucleosynthesis, the synthesis of heavier nuclei such as carbon up to iron, starts occurring in the thermonuclear reactors that are stars. Heavier elements are synthesized and dispersed in the moments when stars collapse and supernova explosions occur.


Today (15000 million years)
Man begins to wonder where it all came from

t = 15 x 109 years, 3 K : Humans The present day. Chemical processes have linked atoms to form molecules. From the dust of stars and through coded messages (DNA) humans emerge and begin to observe the universe around them.

Anonymous (not verified)

The Big Questions

The Big Questions Anonymous (not verified)

Accelerators and detectors

The particles that make up forces and matter are so small that if the nucleus of an atom were enlarged to the size of a tennis ball, a full stop (".") would be as big as the earth’s orbit of the sun. They are so infinitesimally small that no matter how hard physicists squint, they'll never see a quark with a microscope, let alone the naked eye. The key to studying the subatomic world is to use accelerators to boost the energy of particles before a collision, then make the results indirectly visible using detectors. But to appreciate why, we need to understand the incredible relationship between energy and mass.

Swapping energy for mass

Imagine you threw an unknown “mystery” ball at a target , and you wanted to know what type of ball it was. Knowing something about the target, the speed with which the ball bounces back and the track it makes when doing so, you might be able to deduce, for example, whether the ball is likely to be a small rubber ball or a heavy cannon ball. Using the same principle a particle accelerator throws particles with great speed and energy, while detectors provide information on the characteristics of the collisions. Physicists analyse the results of many collisions to gain an insight into the nature of the particles being studied, despite not being able to observe them directly.

To add to the challenge, in the rather bizarre world of particles, give the 'balls' enough of an energy boost and they may turn into something else entirely. That could be like shooting a ping-pong ball at a target to find it transforming into a truckload of watermelons and a handful of beads! This phenomenon is described by Einstein's famous equation E=mc2, which says that matter is a very concentrated form of energy and the two are interchangeable.

So when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) collides simple protons at high energies, some of this energy converts into mass, creating exotic, heavy, short-lived particles. Particles like this were last common nearly 14 billion years ago, a tiny fraction of a second after the creation of the Universe at the Big Bang, and can open a window onto how our Universe was formed and how it is today.

How can accelerators and detectors “see” the subatomic world?

Our eyes can see objects because of visible light reflecting off their surfaces, but we can’t see particles with the naked eye because their sizes are smaller than one ‘unit’ (wavelength) of visible light.

Early in the 20th century it was discovered that moving particles of matter can also be considered as waves and that the wavelengths of these particles become shorter with increasing energy. This means that to study details a billion times smaller, we need to give particles energies a billion times higher. This forms the basic principle of how an accelerator can be used to measure the subatomic world.

Accelerating particles to high energies also allows us to see particles that would usually turn into other, more stable, particles too quickly for us to see them. This is due to another of Einstein’s great discoveries, Special Relativity, which tells us that when something travels fast, to stationary observers, its time appears to run slower. This effect is negligible at everyday speeds but for a particle travelling at close to the speed of light, time passes slow enough for the particle to travel much further than we would otherwise expect. This effect allows us to detect the beauty quark, which decays after just a picosecond (a trillionth of a second). At low speeds it decays quickly and doesn't travel through enough of the detector for us to see it, but when accelerated to near the speed of light, the particle covers a few extra millimetres: far enough for the detector to be able to spot it.

Sensing the subatomic is a job for giants

Something that may appear strange about particle physics experiments is the paradox between the sizes of the equipment and the subjects being investigated. Why does it take the largest machines to investigate something so unimaginably tiny?

The more energy you put into the particles, the more "stuff" (mass) can be created in a collision. And because the particles we are looking for are rare, the number of particles you collide must be high. As a result, studying particles that have never been investigated before often means building larger accelerators to reach higher energies and smashing particles together at higher rates. The history of particle physics may be traced back through a succession of accelerators and detectors of increasing sizes.

Similarly exciting collisions actually happen every day as high-energy particles from space hit particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, but the results go by, unobserved. What you need is a giant detector like CMS to analyse the results of the collisions. CMS’s huge size is dictated by the need to contain all the energetic particles produced in the collisions, and by the methods of identifying them.

Go to the "Detector" section to read more on why CMS is so big

Antimatter in CMS

Antimatter in CMS Anonymous (not verified)

Spot the difference

So how did the universe evolve into this very asymmetric state, dominated by matter, if the underlying forces can barely tell the difference between the two? One possible explanation is that there exists yet another, undiscovered, force in nature that is not matter-antimatter symmetric, i.e. has different effects on matter and antimatter. Another, more popular explanation is that the weak interaction, through which such particles decay, can actually distinguish between matter and antimatter particles.

A clue to the answer into this question may be provided by the phenomenon of Charge-Parity (CP) violation, discovered over four decades ago. CP violation implies that there is a small difference in the rates at which certain particles decay and the corresponding rates at which their antiparticles decay.

One such particle is the B meson, a relative of the proton but made up of quarks known as “beauty”, “bottom” or more often just “b” quarks. Huge numbers of these will be generated in the LHC, and at CMS we can study their decay. Results from CMS will complement those generated in LHCb, a fellow LHC experiment that has been designed specifically for this task. Observing a large asymmetry in the decay rates of b quarks versus anti-b quarks might tell us more about why nature prefers matter over antimatter

The B meson and its antiparticle can both decay into two muons and a different meson made of “charm” quarks, which in turn decays further to form two pions (yet another of the meson family). This decay, shown in the diagram, presents a fairly simple signature for the experiment to detect. We can tell whether the decayed particle was the B meson or its antiparticle by looking at the type of muon produced by the decay of the opposite b quark in the event, and we will be able to compare the rates of the two.

Are there more Particles left to find?

Are there more Particles left to find? Anonymous (not verified)

Supersymmetry: Uniting the forces

Towards a superforce

Our understanding of the workings of the Universe often progress when unexpected connections are found between what appeared at first to be separate entities. A major breakthrough occurred in the 1860s when James Clerk Maxwell recognized the similarities between electricity and magnetism and developed his theory of a single electromagnetic force. A similar breakthrough came a century later, when theorists began to develop links between electromagnetism, with its obvious effects in everyday life, and the weak force, which normally hides within the atomic nucleus. Vital support for these ideas came first from the Gargamelle experiment at CERN, and then with the Nobel prize winning discovery of the W and Z particles, which carry the electroweak force. But take note – it is only at the higher energies explored in particle collisions at CERN and other laboratories that the electromagnetic and weak forces begin to act on equal terms.

So will other forces join the club at even higher energies? Experiments already show that the effect of the strong force becomes weaker as energies increase. This is a good indication that at incredibly high energies, the strengths of the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces may be the same. The energies involved are at least a thousand million times greater than particle accelerators can reach, but such conditions would have existed in the very early Universe, almost immediately (10-34 s) after the Big Bang. Pushing the concept a step further, theorists even contemplate the possibility of including gravity at still higher energies, thereby unifying all the fundamental forces into a single force. This would have ruled the first instants of the Universe, before its different components separated out as the Universe cooled.


Enter superparticles

Although at present we cannot recreate conditions with energy high enough to test these ideas directly, we can look for the consequences of ‘grand unification’ at lower energies, for instance at the Large Hadron Collider. A very popular idea that allows the stong and electroweak forces to unite and become a single interaction at a common energy is called supersymmetry, or SUSY for short. SUSY provides a symmetry between matter and forces, and predicts that for each known particle there is a 'supersymmetric' partner. If this is correct, then supersymmetric particles should appear in collisions at the LHC.

Read more about Supersymmetry in CMS

Detecting Dark Matter

Detecting Dark Matter Anonymous (not verified)

Evidence from the depths of the Universe has ruled out a number of models for what the mysterious dark matter might be, but one candidate that fits so far is the lightest supersymmetric particle (LSP) otherwise known as the “neutralino”, the lightest of a whole range of new particles suggested by a theory called supersymmetry. If the neutralino exists it will likely be stable, heavy, neutral, and will not interact electromagnetically. This makes it a perfect candidate for a substance that pervades the universe without being spotted.

If supersymmetric particles exist, they are very likely to be produced in collisions in the LHC. The heavy particles will decay into combinations of leptons (like electrons and muons) and quarks (which will cause sprays of particles called jets) as well as into neutralinos that will  not decay any further. Therefore many neutralinos will pass through the CMS detector, without depositing any energy or leaving a trail.

So how do you detect an “invisible” particle? CMS will be able to find the neutralino indirectly – by identifying when the energy used to make it goes missing.


Momentum in equals momentum out…

One of the most fundamental laws of physics is that ‘momentum is conserved’. In other words, the total momentum before a collision is equal to the total momentum after. If the total momentum of the observed particles that emerge from a proton-proton collision does not equal the momentum of the two protons, we can deduce there must be an invisible particle somewhere that carried away that missing momentum.

As we collect all the particles we can also add up their momenta and energies (in the “transverse” direction, i.e. at right angles to the beam line) and reconstruct the entire collision; like building a giant jigsaw puzzle. When a neutralino is formed and we can’t detect it we see an imbalance in the collision, with particles flying out one side but not the other and the energy not adding up. This shows up as a hole in the jigsaw puzzle: a missing particle seen through its missing energy or momentum.

The CMS is “hermetic” when it comes to finding missing particles. This means that, to the extent possible, it catches every detectable particle emerging from a collision. Large detectors have “channels for escape”, regions where particles cannot be detected because of cables or other mechanical support. These regions must be minimised to ensure that standard particles can't slip by undetected. This way, if the energy or momentum is "missing", it really is due to an invisible particle.

To search for this missing energy, it is important that the CMS has a good hadron calorimeter as well as detectors at every angle around the beam line. To ensure that particles flying from all directions will be detected, this includes the very shallow angles known as the “forward region”.

Tags / keywords

Detecting extra dimensions

Detecting extra dimensions Anonymous (not verified)

Superstring theory is elegant but speculative and throws up a number of possible experimental outcomes, some more likely than others.

One option would be to find evidence of another host of particles that can only exist if there are more dimensions. Theories that postulate these extra dimensions predict that, like an atom having a low energy ground state and then more energetic states, there must be heavier versions of standard particles recurring at higher and higher energies as they navigate smaller dimensions. These have been called Kaluza-Klein recurrences and would have exactly the same properties as standard particles (and so be visible to our detector) but at a greater mass. If CMS were to find a Z-like particle (the Z boson being one of the carriers of the electroweak force) at 2 TeV for instance, this might suggest the presence of extra dimensions. Such heavy particles wouldn't have been seen at lower energies.

As gravity is thought to be a force able to probe these extra dimensions, another way in which we may be find evidence for string theory is through the disappearance of gravitons, the hypothesised carrier of gravity, into these other dimensions. The particle might be carried away without a trace, but it would leave behind an imbalance in momentum and energy.

Two of the most fundamental laws of physics are that momentum and energy “are conserved”. In other words, the total momentum and energy before a collision is equal to the total momentum and energy after. So if we add these up in all the observed particles emerging from a collision (in the case of CMS we do this is the sideways “transverse” direction) and it does not equal the amount in the original particles, there must be a missing particle that carried away the momentum and energy: a lost piece leaving a hole in the jigsaw.

This is why the detector must be as “hermetic” as possible, that is, it must be able to catch, to the extent possible, every particle emerging from the collisions, so we can deduce that particles have genuinely disappeared, and have not just been missed by the detector.

This method of searching is similar to the way in which we will detect supersymmetric particles , so careful analysis would be needed to decide if a graviton has travelled to another dimension or we have instead produced a SUSY particle, whose decay products would also be invisible to our detector.

Finally, another spectacular yet speculative way of revealing extra dimensions would be through the production of “Micro Quantum Black Holes”, which, if there are extra dimensions, might be produced at the LHC. What exactly we would see would depend on the number of extra dimensions, the mass of the black hole, the size of the dimensions and the energy at which the black hole occurs. If micro black holes do appear they would disintegrate extremely rapidly, in around 10-27 seconds, as they decay into Standard Model or SUSY particles, producing many jets and leptons.

To find these would be an incredible feat that would tell us about how quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and gravity all work together on miniscule scale, allowing us to study quantum gravity in the laboratory. We could use what we see in our three dimensions - for instance, the type of particles emerging, their energy distributions and masses - to decipher the geometry of the extra dimensions and this would be a challenge for physicists to unravel for the coming century.

Read more about the safety of micro quantum black holes and to download the most recent expert reports on the subject.

Do we really live in only three dimensions?

Do we really live in only three dimensions? Anonymous (not verified)

String theory and extra dimensions

Loose ends

Will the string tie the Standard package? Hot on the heels of the Standard Model, some physicists are working to support an idea called string theory. This attempts to tie up the loose ends in the Standard Model by explaining all the fundamental particles and forces (including gravity) in a unified framework.

Underlying string theory is the radical idea that fundamental particles are not really like points or dots, but rather small loops of vibrating strings. All the different particles and forces are just different oscillation modes of a unique type of string. Bizarrely, the theory also implies that besides the familiar three–dimensional world and the fourth dimension of time, there are six additional spatial dimensions! These extra dimensions are apparently 'curled up' so small that we do not see them.

Which string?

String theory is conceptually complex, with a fascinating but very difficult mathematical structure. This has so far prevented researchers from deriving concrete predictions from the theory for comparison with experimental results. Not only does string theory involve the complex study of the geometry of extra dimensions, but the way the structure of the dimensions are chosen appears arbitrary and can lead to different outcomes.

For instance, there seem to be many possible ways to curl up the extra dimensions, by choosing different shapes and sizes. This leads to many alternative versions of the theory. In certain cases, the sizes of the extra dimensions are very small and it will be difficult to obtain direct evidence for them. In others, the sizes are far larger and could be observed at new accelerators such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Secret dimensions

In everyday life, we inhabit a space of three dimensions – a vast ‘cupboard’ with height, width and depth, well known for centuries. Less obviously, we can consider time as an additional, fourth dimension, as Einstein famously revealed. But just as we are becoming more used to the idea of four dimensions, some theorists have made predictions wilder than even Einstein had imagined.

String theory intriguingly suggests that six more dimensions exist, but are somehow hidden from our senses. They could be all around us, but curled up to be so tiny that we have never realized their existence.

What is a dimension?

Dimensions are really just the number of co-ordinates we need to describe things. We can compare this to a tightrope walker travelling along a rope. For the acrobat there is only one dimension – forwards or backwards, and we can state her or his position with just one number. But if we look on a smaller level, for an ant crawling about on the rope there would be two dimensions of travel: we’d need to know how far around the rope it is, as well as how far along. If we zoom in even further, for atoms inside the rope, the world would be in three dimensions, the x, y and z of everyday coordinates. Who is to say that as we go smaller and smaller the number of directions to travel in, the number of dimensions, does not increase even further?

Beyond the third dimension

Some string theorists have taken this idea further to explain a mystery of gravity that has perplexed physicists for some time – why is gravity so much weaker than the other fundamental forces? Why do we need objects the size of planets in order to feel its force when we can experience the electromagnetic force with just a small magnet? And if gravity’s quantum carrier, the graviton, exists, how can we find it? The idea is that we do not feel gravity’s full effect in the everyday world. Gravity may appear weak only because its force is being shared with other spatial dimensions.

To find out whether these ideas are just products of wild imaginations or an incredible leap in understanding will require experimental evidence. But how?

High-energy experiments could prise open the inconspicuous dimensions just enough to allow particles to move between the normal 3D world and other dimensions, manifesting itself in the sudden appearance or disappearance of a particle. Or we might detect some of the new phenomena that a world with extra dimensions predicts. Who knows where such a discovery could lead!

Read more about Extra dimensions in CMS via the link below

Heavy Ions in CMS

Heavy Ions in CMS Anonymous (not verified)

Probing the Plasma

Lead nuclei consist of large numbers of protons and neutrons, both made up of quarks. When the nuclei collide, a range of particles will be produced, some of which are expected to behave differently if a QGP is produced and such behaviour will tell us something about the plasma.

The QGP will for instance affect the frequency with which we see special kinds of mesons made of a pair of “heavy” quarks. When no QGP is formed, quarks remain locked within their particles and a host of these particles fly into the detector, usually seen through their decays to muon pairs. However, when a QGP has been produced, the more loosely-bound of these mesons are no longer seen because they dissolve into the scalding quark soup.

When the plasma gets denser and hotter, the more strongly-bound of these particles also “melt”. By studying the number and types of the surviving particles we can then deduce something about the state of the matter and estimate the temperature of the QGP.

By looking at the energies of the detected jets (narrow sprays of particles produced by quarks or gluons) we can also deduce how dense the plasma is.

Jets are produced in pairs in collisions and fire out in opposite directions. Jets produced in the centre of the dense plasma are “quenched”, losing energy like bullets in water, and most never emerge. Those produced at the edge however might escape, but only in one direction, because the opposite jet will be lost to the plasma mass. If the plasma is dense enough we therefore expect to see single jets rather than jet pairs.

The barely emerging jet will have lost much of its energy. Knowing how much energy loss the plasma caused tells us how dense it is, but to calculate this loss we need to know the jet’s original energy. To do this we look at jets where on the opposite side of the collision a photon or Z boson was produced instead of the second jet. Because these particles do not interact via the strong force they can sail through the QGP unaffected, and tell us the original energy of the interaction.

Z bosons decay into two muons; therefore the final particles that CMS must detect are photons, muon pairs and jets. With very precise hadron and electromagnetic calorimeters and a high performance muon detector system, CMS is ideally equipped to probe the existence of the quark-gluon plasma.

How did Matter form?

How did Matter form? Anonymous (not verified)

Colliding heavy nuclei

Clues to the early Universe

The Universe has changed a great deal in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang, but the basic building blocks of everything from microbes to galaxies were signed, sealed and delivered in the first few millionths of a second. This is when the fundamental quarks became locked up within the protons and neutrons that form atomic nuclei. And there they remain, stuck together with gluons, the carrier particles of the strong force. This force is so strong that experiments are not able to prise individual quarks or gluons out of their particles for long before they recombine quickly to produce new particles.

Primordial soup

Suppose, however, you could reverse the process. The current theory of the strong interaction predicts that at very high temperatures and very high densities, quarks and gluons should no longer be confined inside composite particles. Instead they should exist in a new state of matter known as ‘quark-gluon plasma’ (QGP).

Such a transition should occur when the temperature goes above a value around 2000 billion degrees - about 100 000 times hotter than the core of the Sun! For a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang the temperature of the Universe was indeed above this value; as it grew from being the size of a grapefruit right up to the size of our solar system, the entire Universe would have been in a state of quark-gluon plasma – a hot, dense ‘soup’ of quarks and gluons. Then as the Universe cooled below the critical value, the soup condensed into composite particles, including protons and neutrons.

Experiments at CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron reported tantalising evidence for quark-gluon plasma in 2000 and the Relativistic heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory has since pursued a broad and successful programme in which some fascinating and unexpected properties of the quark-gluon system where observed, giving us new insights into what to look for. The next big step will be with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) .

For a period of time each year the LHC will, in place of colliding protons, collide heavy lead nuclei at close to the speed of light, recreating conditions similar to those just after the “Big Bang”, only on a much smaller scale. The quarks and gluons previously confined in each proton or neutron will then form part of a QGP. This will very quickly expand and cool and at a low enough temperature reassemble as ordinary matter. The reassembled particles fly out into the detector and studying them will help us understand how quarks and gluons behave in their plasma state. This in turn will help us to understand why and how these basic constituents of matter ever formed into protons and neutrons at all, and what keeps them in that state.

Read more about Heavy ions in CMS via the link below

Seeking Susy

Seeking Susy Anonymous (not verified)

Will SUSY be found?

If supersymmetry exists it will likely show itself through the presence of missing energy and through some particle signatures being produced more frequently than the normal “background” rate. A thorough understanding of the detector and all possible read-outs is therefore necessary to establish that we can’t explain these results by any known phenomena or experimental error before looking to a new explanation.

CMS is well equipped to discover such elusive particles and if SUSY is a true symmetry of Nature at the energy scales of the LHC, it will almost certainly be discovered in CMS.

This means a doubling of every particle we know to make SUSY partners or “sparticles”: matter partners are given an “s”, so the partners of electrons and quarks are called “selectrons” and “squarks”, and force partners become an “ino”, for example a “gluino” for the gluon and a “zino” for the Z boson.

Source: DESY


Given that in the 1930s physicist Paul Dirac already doubled the number of known particles by suggesting that each had an associated “antiparticle”, this idea isn’t so strange. But why haven't we ever seen these SUSY particles?

Physicists think that we’ve yet to see the superpartners because SUSY is a broken symmetry, where sparticles have much heavier masses and are less stable than their counterparts. So though SUSY particles would have featured in the same numbers as standard particles in the early Universe, as it expanded and cooled they would have decayed to now only exist in a lightest “fossil” form that is hard to find and detect. But if SUSY particles exist at energy scales compatible with the LHC, up to 2-3 TeV, we will be able to produce and study them in large quantities right here.

Does a SUSY have a dark side?

Because it is both heavy and undetectable, the LSP (neutralino) is a good candidate for dark matter. This relies on the particle being perfectly stable, since dark matter has to have survived from the Big Bang until now. If the LSP is not stable, we can still detect it in CMS through its decay to other particles, rather than through missing energy, but dark matter will remain a mystery.

Read more about dark matter

How to detect a superparticle

SUSY particles produced in the LHC are likely to be pairs of gluinos and/or squarks, heavy particles that will only live for 10-23 seconds before they decay (turn into other more stable and familiar particles) in multiple stages, forming long “decay chains”. The final products will consist of leptons like electrons and muons (producing clean tracks in the experiment), quarks (producing sprays of particles known as jets), and always the lightest supersymmetric particle (LSP).

An event display showing SUSY decay to three leptons, two jets and two LSPs

The LSP is thought to be the lightest of the four "neutralinos", formed as combinations of a zino, a photino and two higgsinos: the SUSY partners of the Z boson, photon and Higgs boson respectively. The LSP is thought to be stable and so marks the end of the decay chain. But because it is weakly interacting and neutral, like the neutrino, it will pass straight through material and not be detected in CMS.

So how do you detect a particle you can’t see and that doesn’t interact with your detector? CMS will be able to detect LSPs, and so SUSY particles, by instead spotting when energy or momentum from the initial collision goes missing.

Momentum in equals momentum out…

One of the most fundamental laws of physics is that ‘momentum is conserved’. In other words, the total momentum before a collision is equal to the total momentum after; in this instance zero, because the protons travel with equal speeds in opposite directions so their momenta cancel out. If the total momentum of the observed particles that emerge from a proton-proton collision does not equal zero, we can deduce there must be an invisible particle somewhere that carried away that missing momentum.

CMS does exactly this: collecting and adding up the momenta and energies of all the emerging particles from a collision (in the “transverse” direction, i.e. at right angles to the beam line). CMS reconstructs the collision like a giant jigaw, and if the emerging particles seem imbalanced, flying out one side but not the other because an undetected LSP has been produced, we see the missing particle as a hole in the puzzle, identifiable due to its missing momentum or energy.

To spot the missing particles CMS is “hermetic” meaning that, to the extent possible, it catches every detectable particle emerging from a collision. Large detectors have cables and support regions that don't detect any kinds of particle and these channels for escape must be minimised to ensure that standard particles can't slip by undetected. This way if the energy or momentum is ‘missing’ it really is due to an invisible particle.

Finding missing energy is why CMS needs a good hadron calorimeter and why it has detectors in the “forward region”, at very shallow angles to the beam line (in addition to the detectors that surround the collision at larger angles) so that particles flying in all directions will be picked up.

Another important consideration in detecting SUSY particles is the ability to detect the “beauty” or “bottom” quarks. The b quark features in a number of decay chains, its sparticle expected to be one of the lighter squarks, but only lives for a very short amount of time before decaying (1 picosecond, one millionth of a millionth of a second). To spot these detectors must have very fine resolution and be placed very close to the beam line.

SUSY signatures

Pairs of SUSY particles decay in multiple stages producing a cascade of particles, often including further SUSYs, but resulting in three main “signatures” that CMS can look for.

An example of a pair of oppositely charged muons (µ+ and µ-) produced as a result of the decay of a squark (~q)


The first uses the fact that the final decay products will often consist of pairs of leptons of opposite charge (e.g. a muon and an anti-muon), along with the ever present LSPs. Looking for unusually high levels of pairs of these particles should be a clear signal of SUSY production and is why we need a high performance detector system for muons , and a good ECAL to detect electrons.

The second common SUSY decay is for gluino or squark pairs to decay into lots of quarks and anti-quarks, along with the two LSPs; in the experiment seen as many narrow sprays of particles called jets and missing energy.

The third way involves spotting an otherwise rare occurrence, the production of pairs of leptons with the same charge. Usually pairs of leptons are produced from decays of a pair of oppositely charged particles, or from the decay of a single neutral particle; either way, conservation of charge means that the two leptons will have opposite charges. However with SUSY we expect to produce pairs of gluinos, which are neutral particles. Furthermore the decay of each gluino is just as likely to produce a positively charged lepton as a negatively charged one (balanced by negatively or positively charged quarks), so a pair of gluinos will often give a pair of leptons with the same charges. Finding unexpectedly large number of same sign leptons produced in events (e.g. two muons rather than a muon and an anti-muon) would also strongly point towards SUSY production.

SUSY Higgs


Supersymmetry doesn’t only increase the number of familiar particles: within supersymmetric models, there are also at least five Higgs bosons – the light scalar (ho), the heavy scalar (Ho), the pseudo scalar (Ao) and the negative and positive charged Higgs particles (H±). These can decay to photons, leptons (including the heaviest known lepton, the tau) and mesons (particles made of quarks), seen as jets in the detector.

Shown in the decay diagram and event display is how a SUSY Higgs might decay to two taus, giving an end product of an electron, jets (caused by the pions) and neutrinos, which will be detected through their missing energy. If supersymmetric Higgs particles exist, one way they could therefore be seen is as an increased frequency of pairs of taus produced as specific energies, as shown in the graph.

An image of a SUSY collision showing an electron plus jets.


What and where is Antimatter?

What and where is Antimatter? Anonymous (not verified)

Antimatter detectives

The antimatter is missing – not from CERN, but from the Universe! At least that is what we can deduce so far from careful examination of the evidence. For each basic particle of matter, there exists an antiparticle with the same mass, but the opposite electric charge. The negatively charged electron, for example, has a positively charged antiparticle called the positron. When a particle and its antiparticle come together, they both disappear, quite literally in a flash, as the annihilation process transforms their mass into energy.

The evidence spoke for itself

The ‘case file’ of antimatter was opened in 1928 by physicist Paul Dirac. He developed a theory that combined quantum mechanics and Einstein’s special relativity to provide a more complete description of electron interactions. The basic equation he derived turned out to have two solutions, one for the electron and one that seemed to describe something with positive charge (in fact, it was the positron). Then in 1932 the evidence was found to prove these ideas correct, when the positron was discovered occurring naturally in cosmic rays.

For the past 50 years and more, laboratories like CERN have routinely produced antiparticles, and in 1995 CERN became the first laboratory to create anti-atoms artificially. But no one has ever produced antimatter without also obtaining the corresponding matter particles. The scenario should have been the same during the birth of the Universe, when equal amounts of matter and antimatter would have been produced in the Big Bang.

“Just one more thing…”

So if matter and antimatter annihilate, and we and everything else are made of matter, why do we still exist? This mystery arises because we find ourselves living in a Universe made exclusively of matter. Didn't matter and antimatter completely annihilate at the time of the Big Bang? Perhaps this antimatter still exists somewhere else? Otherwise where did it go and what happened to it in the first place?

Such questions have led to speculative theories, from a break in the rules to the existence of an entire anti-Universe somewhere else! The way to solve the baffling disappearance of antimatter, and to learn more about this substance in general, is by studying both particles and antiparticles to find and decipher the subtle clues.

Click the link below to read more about Antimatter in CMS

What do we already know?

What do we already know? Anonymous (not verified)

The standard package

The theories and discoveries of thousands of physicists over the past century have resulted in a remarkable insight into the fundamental structure of matter: everything that has been directly observed in the Universe until now has been found to be made from twelve basic building blocks called fundamental particles, governed by four fundamental forces. Our best understanding of how these twelve particles and three of the forces are related to each other is encapsulated in the Standard Model of particles and forces. Developed in the early 1970s, it has successfully explained a host of experimental results and precisely predicted a wide variety of phenomena. Over time and through many experiments by many physicists, the Standard Model has become established as a well-tested physics theory.

Matter particles

Everything around us is made of matter particles.These occur in two basic types called quarks and leptons.

Each group consists of six particles, which are related in pairs, or ‘generations’. The six quarks are paired in the three generations – the 'up quark' and the 'down quark' form the first generation, followed by the 'charm quark' and 'strange quark', then the 'top quark' and 'bottom quark'. The six leptons are similarly arranged in three generations – the 'electron' and the 'electron-neutrino', the 'muon' and the 'muon-neutrino', and the 'tau' and the 'tau-neutrino'. The electron, the muon and the tau all have an electric charge and mass, whereas the neutrinos are electrically neutral with very little mass.

The lightest and most stable charged particles are in the first generation, whereas the heavier and less stable particles belong to the second and third generations. All stable matter observed in the Universe is made from particles that belong to the first generation; any heavier particles quickly decay to the next most stable level.

Forces and carrier particles

There are four fundamental forces at work in the Universe: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. They work over different ranges and have different strengths. Gravity is the weakest but it has an infinite range. The electromagnetic force also has infinite range but it is many times stronger than gravity. The weak and strong forces are effective only over a very short range (the size of a proton) and dominate only at the level of subatomic particles. Despite its name, the weak force is much stronger than gravity but it is indeed the weakest of the other three. The strong force is, as the name implies, the strongest among all the four fundamental interactions.

We know that three of the fundamental forces result from the exchange of force carrier particles, which belong to a broader group called ‘bosons’. Matter particles transfer discrete amounts of energy by exchanging bosons with each other. Each fundamental force has its own corresponding boson particle – the strong force is carried by the ‘gluon’, the electromagnetic force is carried by the ‘photon’, and the ‘W and Z bosons’ are responsible for the weak force. Although not yet found, the ‘graviton’ should be the corresponding force-carrying particle of gravity.

The Standard Model includes the electromagnetic, strong and weak forces and all their carrier particles, and explains extremely well how these forces act on all the matter particles. However, the most familiar force in our everyday lives, gravity, is not part of the Standard Model. In fact, fitting gravity comfortably into the framework has proved to be a difficult challenge. The quantum theory used to describe the micro world, and the general theory of relativity used to describe the macro world, are like two children who refuse to play nicely together. No one has managed to make the two mathematically compatible in the context of the Standard Model. But luckily for particle physics, the effects of gravity on their experiments have been so weak as to be negligible. Only when we have matter in bulk, such as in ourselves or in planets, is gravity observed to dominate. So the Standard Model still works well despite its reluctant exclusion of one of the fundamental forces.

So far so good, but... is not time for physicists to call it a day just yet. Even though the Standard Model is currently the best description we have of the subatomic world, it does not explain the complete picture. The theory incorporates only three out of the four fundamental forces, omitting gravity. Alas, Newton would be turning in his grave! Nor does it explain why the many well-established basic parameters such as particles' masses have the values they do. There are also important questions it cannot answer, such as what is dark matter, what happened to the missing antimatter, and more.

Last but not least, an essential ingredient of the Standard Model, a particle called the Higgs boson, has yet to be found in an experiment. The race is on to hunt for the Higgs – the key to the origin of particle mass. Finding it would be a big step for particle physics, although its discovery would not write the final ending to the story.

So despite the Standard Model's effectiveness at describing the phenomena within its domain, it is nevertheless incomplete. Perhaps it is only a part of a bigger picture that includes new physics that has so far been hidden deep in the subatomic world or in the dark recesses of the Universe. New information from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are sure to help us find more of these missing pieces.

Tags / keywords

What is the Universe really made of?

What is the Universe really made of? Anonymous (not verified)


Dark secrets of the Universe

It’s perhaps natural that we don’t know much about how the Universe was created – after all, we were never there ourselves. But it’s surprising to realise that when it comes to the Universe today, we don’t necessarily have a much better knowledge of what is out there. In fact, astronomers and physicists have found that all we see in the Universe – planets, stars, galaxies – accounts for only a tiny 4% of it! In a way, it is not so much the visible things that define the Universe, but rather the void around them.

Cosmological and astrophysical observations indicate that most of the Universe is made up of invisible substances that do not emit electromagnetic radiation – that is, we cannot detect them directly through telescopes or similar instruments. We detect them only through their gravitational effects, which makes them very difficult to study. These mysterious substances are known as ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. What they are and what role they played in the evolution of the Universe are a mystery, but within this darkness lie intriguing possibilities of hitherto undiscovered physics beyond the established Standard Model.

Dark matter

Dark matter makes up about 26% of the Universe. The first hint of its existence came in 1933, when astronomical observations and calculations of gravitational effects revealed that there must be more 'stuff' present in the Universe than telescopes could see.

Researchers now believe that the gravitational effect of dark matter makes galaxies spin faster than expected, and that its gravitational field bends the light coming from objects behind it. Measurements of these effects show that dark matter exists, and they can be used to estimate the density of dark matter even though we cannot directly observe it.

But what is dark matter? One idea is that it could contain ‘supersymmetric particles’ - hypothesized particles that are partners to those already known in the Standard Model. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider may be able to find them.

Dark energy

Dark energy makes up approximately 70% of the Universe and appears to be associated with the vacuum in space. The LHC will not directly detect dark energy.

The Size of Things

The Size of Things

Why do physicists need enormous machines, like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and gigantic viewing instruments (detectors) such as the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) to conduct their investgations of the sub-atomic world?

The size and position of an object tends to dictate what type of instrument is required to observe it. For example, what instruments would be helpful for the following backyard-observations: 1) a tree in your garden, 2) a small bird sitting on the highest branch of the tree, 3) the moon in the sky above the tree ? Your eye, a pair of binoculars, and a telescope would assist in the study of each of these items, respectively.

Now… there is an odd [inverse] relationship when people want to study very small objects : The smaller the object to be viewed, the larger the viewing instrument is. For example, to examine an ant, a virus, or an atom, a person would correspondingly need an optical microscope, an electron microscope, or a scanning tunneling microscope. To go further than this requires a particle accelerator, the first of which used energetic electron beams.

The following was written by Prof. Leon Lederman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and taken from the foreward of Don Lincoln's excellent book about the LHC: "The Quantum Frontier":

"These were invented in the 1930s and provided precise data on the size, shape and structure of atoms. To probe the nucleus of atoms, higher energies were required, and the acceleration of protons was added to the toolkit of physicists.

An approximate timetable of progress in accelerators may be useful and is shown below. Note that eV equals one electron volt, so keV is 103 electron volts and so on. You can see in the table that the higher the energy of the accelerated particle, the smaller the distance probed. However, to probe the very small, the accelerators also grew in size, complexity and cost. Accelerators are then in essence powerful microscopes, taking over when light is no longer sufficient."

Date Energy Distance Probed
~100 keV
10-11 metres
~100 MeV
10-14 metres
~100 GeV
10-17 metres
1 TeV
10-18 metres
~10 TeV
10-19 metres
Anonymous (not verified)