"The cost: $3 billion and change. The goal: to find one lousy subatomic particle.
Specifically, the Higgs boson, the most elusive speck of matter in the universe. Often called the God particle, it's supposed to be the key to explaining why matter has mass. Physicists believe that Higgs particles generate a kind of soupy ether through which other particles move, picking up drag that translates into mass on the macroscopic scale. The Higgs is the cornerstone of 21st-century physics; it simply has to be there, otherwise the standard model of the universe collapses.
For all the high-level physics, smashing protons together is actually the easy part. The hard part is crunching data. To find the Higgs, which might flash across Atlas' layered detectors for a microsecond, researchers will have to process a staggering amount of information. Atlas and its three sister detectors will spew a thousand times more raw data in a year than in all the world's phone calls. Every eight-hour run of the LHC will produce around 10 terabytes. At full power, the LHC could produce 10 petabytes of useful data each year. That's 1016 bytes - 2 million DVDs' worth of binary numbers encoding energy levels, momentum, charge - all in search of the one in 10 trillion anomalies that could mark the passage of a Higgs.
Discovering the Higgs might seem an esoteric goal. But the search will have a powerful real-world spinoff: to process all that data, scientists are building a worldwide meta-network of PCs, organized into large clusters and linked by ultra high-speed connections into a global, virtual computing service. It's called the LHC Computing Grid, and it could mark the evolution of the Internet from a pervasive communications network into a powerful, global computation network.
The LHC grid is already lighting up -"