For the UA's Elliott Cheu and 10,000 other physicists whose futures are linked to results coming from the Large Hadron Collider, Tuesday was a very good morning.

Two beams of matter, each traveling at nearly the speed of light, collided in a tunnel on the border of Switzerland and France. What happened then was recorded on detectors partially built on the University of Arizona campus.

Cheu and other physicists will be searching the resultant spray from this collision and many to come for evidence of "dark matter," other elemental particles predicted by theory, or even stranger stuff that no theory has yet predicted.

Cheu, just back from a recent trip to the LHC and planning another in summer, was "under the weather" Tuesday morning and didn't wake up for the news.

"I missed the event," Cheu said, "but it's very exciting how things turned out."

Everything worked, he said. The particle accelerator, built by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, whipped two beams of protons around the nearly 17-mile subsurface ring, each at speeds approaching the speed of light and an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts - "seven times more energetic than ever before."

The collisions left plenty of data at the eight-story-high ATLAS detector, parts of which were designed and put together in Tucson, said Cheu.

Cheu, a UA professor of physics, is one of 23 members of the ATLAS Project team at the UA's Department of Physics. The team is headed by UA physics professor John Rutherfoord and includes physics faculty members Michael Shupe, Kenneth Johns and Erich Varnes.

Research scientists, graduate students and technical staff have also worked on the project, in addition to more than 20 undergraduates, says a UA news release.

The release says ATLAS team member Walter Lampl, an assistant research scientist at UA, was in Switzerland for the historic event and e-mailed: "The first collisions arrived only a few minutes ago. It's pretty crazy here now - but it's great!"

Cheu said the data that will be collected by his team's detector and the three others along the collider's path will be voluminous. "One of the things that happens is that as the accelerator gets up and going the rate of data taking increases exponentially."

It will be analyzed "to infinity," he said.

Cheu will be looking for evidence that the collisions have created "dark matter."

Particle physicists and astronomers have both proposed the existence of dark matter and their observations have led to independent theories that say dark matter makes up 25 percent of the universe.

He said his interest in dark matter has lured him into astrophysics as well. He is looking at getting involved in the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, whose mirrors are being cast at the UA's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab.

There will be enough data from CERN to keep all the physicists busy on a variety of subjects, he said.

"It's a really interesting sociological effect. Different groups kind of self-form around different topics. The topic I'm working on has about four or five people," said Cheu.

"We'll push this analysis forward, do all the calculations and present to the collaboration as a whole," he said. "Ultimately, you have 10 to 100 people working on specific analysis."

Cheu said he's been visited by sociologists from the UA who are interested in the interactions of such a large group of top scientists.

The notion of 10,000 high-energy physicists working on what is often called the world's biggest science experiment has attracted social scientists to CERN to study the dynamics of it all, according to an article published last week in the scientific journal Nature.

"Sociologists, anthropologists, historians and philosophers have been visiting CERN to see just how these densely packed physicists collide, ricochet and sometimes explode," says the article, written by Zeeya Merali and titled: "Physics: The Large Human Collider."

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Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or tbeal@azstarnet.com

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