The Time Machine

It’s been called the biggest scientific project ever. And Vancouver scientists are poised to help understand the origins of the universe.

  1. Given Canada's key role in the experiment, it would have been a little embarrassing if this business at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva had destroyed the universe. In theory, it still could produce microscopic black holes that will suck us into oblivion and pull our screams in behind us. But frankly, scientists at TRIUMF—Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics—aren't too concerned. "These collisions are going on all the time with cosmic rays," says Nigel Lockyer, TRIUMF's director. "I wish we could make collisions of higher energy than what nature does routinely."

    No, any nail-biting at TRIUMF concerned whether the hardware would work on game day. TRIUMF built a part of the accelerator—a system of "kicker magnets" that spank the already fast-moving protons into the main ring of the collider where they really start to motor. There was a tense moment when word came from CERN (Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment) that some magnets had failed, followed by relief when they weren't crucial and, as one TRIUMFer puts it, "they weren't ours." In fact, the "Canadian Insertion" worked perfectly and the Great Discovery Machine was up and humming, conducting the groundbreaking ATLAS Experiment, stalking the so-called God particle and probing the mysteries of the origins of everything.

    Every day Lockyer parks his red Porsche Carrera on a little-visited plot of land at the hem of the UBC campus where some 500 scientists—astrophysicists and material scientists and ...