All atoms are made up of subatomic particles. But not every particle spends its time locked into an atom. Some particles, like neutrinos, whiz around and through our oblivious bodies every day, while others are created when humans smash matter together at high speeds. To see these ultra-tiny particles, however, we have to use enormous machines called particle detectors.
1. Super-Kamiokande Experiment
Deep in the Japanese Kamioka mine, 1000 meters below the surface, a huge stainless steel cylinder sits, lined with 13,000 photomultiplier tubes and filled with 50,000 tons of purified water.
The ANTARES experiment 2.5 kilometers beneath the Mediterranean Sea is a Cherenkov detector like the Super-Kamiokande experiment, but it looks at neutrino interactions with the water in the naturally occurring ocean, and detects the resulting Cherenkov light with arrays of photomultiplier-based optical modules.
Similarly to ANTARES, the neutrino telescope in Russia’s Lake Baikal also uses arrays of optical sensors to search for neutrinos. Unlike ANTARES, however, the Baikal detector has a winter camp, when it must be reached by drilling through the ice that forms over it.
4. IceCube Neutrino Observatory
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica makes the on in Baikal look wimpy. It also relies on water-albeit in its solid phase—to ferret out neutrinos from space. But although it uses the same type of regular array employed by ANTARES and Baikal, this array cannot merely be lowered into the solid ice of the South Pole.
5. Soudan Underground Laboratory’s CDMS II
Minnesota’s Soudan Mine is the oldest mine for iron ore in Minnesota-and in addition to iron, it also houses detectors for both neutrinos and dark matter thousands of feet below the surface.
6. SLAC’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope
Detectors in the sea, detectors in the ice, and now, a particle detector…in space! SLAC’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope was launched in June 2008 to look at high energy gamma rays. Although its function is to act as a telescope, its operation isanalogous to that of a particle detector.
7. CERN’s ATLAS detector
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider can be used for a variety of experiments, and each detector focuses on looking for something different. Its most sizeable detector, ATLAS, is also the largest general-purpose particle detector in the world.
8. CERN’s CMS detector
There’s too much physics going on at the Large Hadron Collider to limit ourselves to only one of their detectors. Besides, ATLAS may have a greater volume, but at 12,500 tons, the LHC’s Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS, outweighs it. Like ATLAS, CMS serves as a general-purpose detector.
9. The Collider Detector at FermiLab (CDF)
In FermiLab’s Tevatron collider, beams of protons and antiprotons crash into each other, CDF looks at the resulting carnage. Although the Tevatron has seen the top and bottom quarks, the W and Z bosons (which CERN had found first), and other fundamental particles, it was most frequently in the news this year for its race to beat CERN to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.
10. Brookhaven National Lab’s PHENIX and STAR detectors
At Brookhaven National Lab, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) smashes beams of relatively heavy gold ions together at relativistic speeds. Because the ions are a lot heavier than the particles that smash together at CERN or FermiLab, they also carry less energy.
Image via IceCube