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Scientists in Geneva draw closer to the Big Bang

Physicists at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, believe they have been able to recreate the conditions which existed a few microseconds after the universe was created.

This content was published on February 9, 2000 - 10:24

Physicists at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, believe they have been able to recreate the conditions which existed a few microseconds after the universe was created, by liberating a new form of matter 20 times denser than any previously discovered.

If confirmed, the findings will bring scientists several steps closer to unravelling the secrets of the creation of the universe. Before the breakthrough, scientific knowledge had been stuck at approximately three minutes after the "Big Bang" happened.

The new state of matter was liberated during a series of experiments in the Geneva-based laboratory's particle accelerators. Lead nuclei were smashed into each other, reaching temperatures over 100,000 times as hot as the centre of the sun and generating energy more dense than ordinary nuclear particles, according to CERN.

Professor Luciano Maiani, the director-general, said the results achieved by teams of scientists from 20 countries present compelling evidence: "the combined data coming from the seven experiments on CERN's Heavy Ion programme have given a clear picture of a new state of matter".

The data is being presented to specialists from around the world at a series of seminars in Geneva later today. Work on the latest findings will then continue at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on New York's Long Island, before returning to Geneva in 2005, when CERN will have an even more powerful accelerator.

In 1994, CERN set out to prove through experiments that quarks, the tiniest components that make up matter, could roam freely instead of being bound up to protons and neutrons. Until now, any state prior to the formation of nuclear matter had only been a theoretical prediction.

Founded in 1954, the laboratory was one of Europe's first joint ventures. Its accelerators run in huge underground tunnels that form a circle up to 27 kilometres which straddles the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

By Peter Capella

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