This summer, on the border between France and Switzerland, something incredible will happen. Hundreds of feet below the surface is a 17-mile-long, circular tunnel designed for a spectacular purpose - accelerating particles of matter to nearly the speed of light and smashing them into one another. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest and most powerful machine ever built.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where Tim Berners-Lee worked when he created the World Wide Web, began constructing the LHC in 1998 at a cost of more than $6 billion. In this illustration, the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) station is shown in detail. ATLAS is one of six particle accelerators that will work in concert to whip two proton beams in opposite directions around the ring at mind-boggling speed. Researchers will then slam them together.

The particle collisions in the beams will result in ... well, nobody really knows. Researchers hope the collisions will provide evidence of the theorized Higgs boson particle. If it exists, Higgs boson could help explain many unanswered questions about the universe. CERN researchers have also assured the public there is almost no chance the LHC will create a black hole that will swallow the Earth.

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.