10 September 2008: the Large Hadron Collider is switched on for the first time

The search for the mysterious Higgs boson kicked off in earnest today in 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider deep below Switzerland was switched on.

On this day in 2008, a lot of people woke up and ate their cornflakes under a cloud of worry. They were concerned that, later in the day, the earth would be swallowed up into a black hole created accidentally by mad scientists in Switzerland, and we would all be crushed into nothingness.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, AKA Cern, was looking to confirm the existence of the world's first celebrity sub-atomic particle, the theoretical Higgs boson, known to headline-writers the world over as the “God particle”. (A boson is one of two classes of particles in sub-atomic physics. The other is called a fermion.)

In very, very short, it was hoped that by discovering the Higgs boson, boffins could prove that the so-called “Standard Model” of particle physics was correct, and life could carry on as normal.

To find it, Cern built the world's biggest particle accelerator, a 27km-long ring of superconducting electromagnets, cooled to a temperature of -271.3C. In it, particles would be fired at other particles at a speed approaching the speed of light. Scientists would then observe what happened, to see if a Higgs boson appeared.

And so, on 10 September, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider was switched on. Some doom-mongers speculated that the smashing together of the particles would create a black hole that would grow uncontrollably, feeding on Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn before swallowing the whole of the solar system and everyone in it.

Thankfully, that didn't happen. As Cern itself says, “LHC collisions present no danger and that there are no reasons for concern”.

Finally, after almost four years of research, the Higgs boson – or at least, a particle “consistent with” the Higgs boson – was found on 4 July 2012. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite what everyone had expected, which just led to a lot more questions. Scientists are still trying to work out just what the existence of the Higgs boson actually tells us.

Recommended

23 January 1967: Milton Keynes founded
This day in history

23 January 1967: Milton Keynes founded

The most famous of Britain's garden cities, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, was founded on this day in 1967.
23 Jan 2021
22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister
This day in history

22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister

Ramsay MacDonald was one of the founder members of the Labour party, which he took to power on this day in 1924.
22 Jan 2021
22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain
This day in history

22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain

On this day in 1979, thousands of public sector workers downed tools over the Labour government's unpopular policy to tackle inflation.
22 Jan 2021
21 January 1976: Concorde’s first commercial flight
This day in history

21 January 1976: Concorde’s first commercial flight

Almost seven years after its maiden flight, and at a total cost of £1.3bn, Concorde finally entered commercial service on this day in 1976.
21 Jan 2021

Most Popular

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021
House prices

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021

Lockdown sent house prices berserk as cooped up home-workers fled for bigger properties in the country. And while they won’t rise quite as much this y…
18 Jan 2021
Inflation is the easiest way out of this – just don’t expect politicians to admit it
Inflation

Inflation is the easiest way out of this – just don’t expect politicians to admit it

The UK government borrowed £34.1bn in December, a record amount for that month. Britain's debt pile now amounts to 100% of GDP. How are we going to pa…
22 Jan 2021
The best investment trusts to buy for 2021
Investment trusts

The best investment trusts to buy for 2021

Sectors ranging from emerging markets to student accommodation look poised to do well this year, says David Stevenson, as he picks the best investment…
19 Jan 2021