Nuclear Detectives Hunt Invisible Particles That Escaped the World’s Largest Atom Smasher

By Rafi Letzter

A few years from now, if a crew of physicists gets its way, a squat building will rise above the border between France and Switzerland. This warehouse-size annex will join a scientific facility so large it crosses national borders. And, if the researchers proposing the construction are correct, it just might find the missing pieces of the universe.

Separated by a few hundred vertical feet of bedrock granite from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new building would contain a scientific instrument called the MATHUSLA device (Massive Timing Hodoscope for Ultra Stable Neutral Particles), named after the longest-living man in the Book of Genesis. Its job: to hunt for long-lived particles that the LHC can’t detect itself.

There’s something strange about the idea. The LHC is the biggest, baddest particle accelerator in the world: a 17-mile (27 kilometers) ring of superconducting magnets that, 11,245 times per second, flings a few thousand protons at one another at significant fractions of the speed of light and then, whenever anything interesting happens, records the result.

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