Puzzle #2: Understanding Particle Physics
The first question in this puzzle is, What is this picture? The answer is, It is a cross-section of one segment of a particle accelerator. Its purpose is to accelerate a stream of particles to as near the speed of light as is possible. It does this through the use of magnetic fields; the fields alternate in such a way that the particles (which are magnetically charged) are constantly propelled and accelerated forward. This works in a way much like a DC electric motor; the electric field is constantly alternating so as to push the central rod in the motor 'forwards' (around in a circle, in this case), and were it not for friction, the motor would accelerate indefinitely towards the speed of light.
The second part of the puzzle asks, What is this diagram, and how was it made? The answer, as presented by STARTING POINT #2, is that it is a cross-section of a particle detector. Two particle streams collide, and the products of the collision are focused through this detector; each kind of particle is detected by its corresponding region in the detector. By noting the original contents of the particle stream and the final results as determined by this detector, it is possible to interpolate what happened when the two streams of particles collided.
The third question is, What do the first two diagrams have to do with elementary particles?, and what, for that matter, are elementary particles, anyway? Elementary particles are the smallest particles that we have found; some of them, quarks, specifically, compose the electrons and protons that combine to create atoms. Elementary particles are, according to present scientific theory, the particles that compose all other particles. The first diagram is a diagram of a device that focuses a beam of particles in order to smash them together, and hopefully create a number of free elementary particles, which we can then detect and study. The second diagram is of an elementary particle detector, a device that is used to detect the particles produced by the machine in the first picture.
The fourth and final question is, What does all this have to do with the Big Bang? The answer is that the Big Bang involved incredible concentrations of high-energy elementary particles, so in order to understand the Big Bang, we must learn to understand how high-energy particles behave. The particle accelerator and particle detector are both essential tools used to analyze how very small, subatomic particles interact with each other, and elementary particles are the most basic of the subatomic particles, so a complete understanding of particle physics, and thus a complete understanding of the Big Bang, we must understand them.