You might have never heard of the CERN laboratory, but this is all about to change.
On 10th September 2008 the most powerful scientific experiment ever attempted will take place at this quiet research centre near Geneva on the border of France and Switzerland.
Buried underground, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is about to be switched on. In laymen's terms, it is a kind of time machine that could open a window on how the universe appeared in the first few microseconds of its existence.
Particle accelerators and detectors are the key parts to the whole experiment. The accelerators are housed in a near circular tunnel under the Jura Mountains, buried between 50 – 175m underground at various points.
Beams of protons will be accelerated in opposing directions and smashed into each other at near light speed, and in conditions colder than the space between the stars.
In order to photograph the moment of these explosive collisions, detectors, which are as large as a five-storey building, have been built at CERN, yet they're capable of pinpointing a particle with an accuracy of 15 microns, that's 20 times thinner than a human hair.
The journey to build this giant experiment has taken 14 years, more than 10,000 scientists from 40 countries and a whopping £5 billion (60 billion yuan) to complete.
If the experiment succeeds in recreating the conditions soon after the Big Bang, scientists are hoping to discover new physics which may answer questions about what the universe is made of, and how it came to be the way it is.
However, not everyone is eagerly anticipating the big day. There are fears that the experiment could open black holes and the whole planet might disappear. But Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith says there's no threat at all.
"The chance we produce a black hole is minuscule, it's one of the wildest speculations. But even if we do, it can't swallow up the earth," he said.
in laymen's terms
a beam of protons
Large Hadron Collider
pinpointing a particle