Wandering around the CERN campus, home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), what strikes you most is not what you can see, but what you can't.
The campus facility, which straddles the French-Swiss border (leading to non-stop "Welcome to France/Switzerland" texts as you roam), looks like any other humdrum bunch of offices and carparks in the European hinterland.
But some 50 to 100 metres below the ground lies the greatest scientific endeavour since man went to the Moon. The fact that the work at CERN is hidden away out of sight is apt, as the organisation is all about searching for the unseen, the unknown.
At present we've observed only four per cent of the universe and are utterly confused by issues of anti-matter. What is it? Why can't we see it? What does it do?
The LHC was built to rectify this and it's probably the greatest machine built by humankind, as Francois Briard, control infrastructure section leader of the Beam Department, explained with some impressive statistics.
"The LHC can fire particles at 99 per cent the speed of light around a 27km ring that's frozen to within one degree of absolute zero 11,000 times in a single second," he said.
You might want to read that sentence again to take it all in. The physics behind it are mind-bending, especially when Briard delivers the numbers in such a matter-of-fact way, as if nothing could be simpler.
As you may imagine, these experiments produce mind-boggling amounts of data. One petabyte of data is created every second, although not all of it is stored. Only the interesting results are kept, which requires huge storage systems.
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