Scientific innovation and discovery are defining characteristics of humanity’s innate curiosity. Mankind has developed advanced scientific research machines to help us better understand the universe. They constitute some of the greatest human endeavors for the sake of technological and scientific progress. These projects also connect people of many nations and cultures, and inspire future generations of engineers and scientists.
Apart from the last two experiments that are under construction, the images in this article are not fake or altered; they are real and showcase machines on the frontier of scientific innovation and discovery. Read on to learn more about the machines, what the images show, and how NI technology helps make them possible.
Borexino, a solar neutrino experiment, recently confirmed the energy output of the sun has not changed in 100,000 years. Its large underground spherical detector contains 2,000 soccer-ball-sized photomultiplier tubes.
Borexino and DarkSide
PMTs are contained inside the Liquid Scintillator Veto spherical tank, a component of the DarkSide Experiment used to actively suppress background events from radiogenic and cosmogenic neutrons.
Borexino and DarkSide are located 1.4 km (0.87 miles) below the earth’s surface in the word’s largest underground laboratory for experiments in particle astrophysics. Only a tiny fraction of the contents of the universe is visible matter, the rest is thought to be composed of dark matter and dark energy. A leading hypothesis for dark matter is that it comprises Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs). The DarkSide experiment attempts to detect these particles to better understand the nature of dark matter and its interactions.
These experiments use NI oscilloscopes to acquire electrical signals resulting from scintillation light captured by the photomultiplier tubes (PMTs). In DarkSide, 200 high-speed, high-resolution channels need to be tightly synchronized to make time-of-flight measurements of photons. Watch the NIWeek 2013 keynote or view a technical presentation for more information.
Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Plasma is contained and heated in a torus within the interior of the JET tokamak.
Currently the largest experimental tokamak fusion reactor in the world, JET uses magnetic confinement to contain plasma at around 100 million degrees Celsius, nearly seven times the temperature of the sun’s core (15 million degrees Celsius). Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun. Harnessing this type of energy can help solve the world’s growing energy demand. This facility is crucial to the research and development for future larger fusion reactors.
The LHC is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, located in a 27 km (16.78 mile) ring tunnel underneath Switzerland and France. The experiment recently discovered the Higgs boson, deemed the “God Particle” that gives everything its mass. CERN is set to reopen the upgraded LHC in early 2015 at much higher energies to help physicists probe deeper into the nature of the universe and address the questions of supersymmetry and dark matter.
The image looks up into NIF’s 10 m (33 ft) diameter spherical target chamber with the target held on the protruding pencil-shaped arm.
NIF is the largest inertial confinement fusion device in the world. The experiment converges the beams of 192 high-energy lasers on a single fuel-filled target, producing a 500 TW flash of light to trigger nuclear fusion. The aim of this experiment is to produce a condition known as ignition, in which the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining. The machine was also used as the set for the warp drive in the latest Star Trek movie.
The Z Machine creates residual lightning as it releases 350 TW of stored energy.
The world’s largest X-ray generator is used for various high-pulsed power experiments requiring extreme temperatures and pressures. This includes inertial confinement fusion research. The extremely high voltages are achieved by rapidly discharging huge capacitors in a large insulated bath of oil and water onto a central target.
European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)
European Southern Observatory (ESO), Cerro Armazones, Chile
This artist’s rendition of the E-ELT shows it at its high-altitude Atacama Desert site.
The E-ELT is the largest optical/near-infrared ground-based telescope being built by ESO in northern Chile. It will allow astronomers to probe deep into space and investigate many unanswered questions about the universe. Images from E-ELT will be 16 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope, allowing astronomers to study the creation and atmospheres of extrasolar planets. The primary M1 mirror (shown in the image) is nearly 40 m (131 ft) in diameter, consisting of about 800 hexagonal segments.
International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)
ITER Organization, Cadarache, France
This cutaway computer model shows ITER with plasma at its core. A technician is shown to demonstrate the machine’s size.
ITER is an international effort to build the largest experimental fusion tokamak in the world, a critical step toward future fusion power plants. The European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and United States are collaborating on the project, which is currently under construction in southern France.