Studying the particles that are the building blocks of matter is possible by investigating particles that are millions of times smaller than the atom. Research on these extremely minute particles may only be carried out using very enormous and complex particle physics experimental apparatuses. Such highly complex experiments can only be controlled with extensive use of computers.
High-energy particle physics is a field of science that studies the building blocks of matter and the interactions between them. Recent experiments carried out by the help of new high technology allow us to rapidly expand our knowledge on the composition of matter. Research on particle physics is conducted in particle accelerator laboratories kilometres in diameter. In particle accelerators, charged particles – mostly protons and electrons – are accelerated to great velocities in an electromagnetic field and directed into a cloud chamber. The accelerated particles are then made to collide with either fixed targets or with each other. The particles shattered as a result of these collisions are examined by various detector systems.
The accelerator and detector technologies, whose sophistication increasingly progressed from the 1950's on, made very high-energy collisions possible. The study of these collisions by advanced detector systems gave way to the discovery that protons and neutrons, known as the basis of matter, have a sub-structure composed of particles called quarks. Measurements made at high energy levels gave scientists the opportunity to study the composition of matter at distances as small as one hundredth of the radius of the proton. Accelerator laboratories are found only in a few centres in the world as their foundation and operation are very costly. The most important ones are CERN (Geneva), DESY (Hamburg), Fermilab-FNAL (Chicago) and SLC (California). High-energy physicists participate in experimental studies in these centres in large groups and study the secrets of the atom. Among these laboratories, the SLC is 3 km in diameter and CERN 27 km. However, the champion in the competition for size is the US project SSC which is being constructed in the centre of Texas in the USA, with a perimeter diameter of about 85 kilometres. The cost of the machinery increases in direct proportion to size (For SSC, this figure will be approximately 6 billion dollars). Taskin Tuna, Uzayin Otesi (Beyond Space), Bogazici Yayinlari, 1995, p. 52)
CERN’s physicists carry out experiments using several enormous underground particle accelerators, the largest of which is 27 km (17 mi) in circumference.
The CERN particle physics laboratory is an international research centre located on the Swiss–French border and formed by a membership of 19 European nations. The research subject of this laboratory is the basic structure of matter and the main particles forming this structure. About 3,000 physicists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel are employed in the laboratory, which is visited by over 6,000 member physicists for research purposes.