Yesterday, scientists from 20 different countries working at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, announced that, after years of work, they had created "a new state of matter." In this new state of matter, quarks, the smallest known particles, roam freely instead of being bound up into more complex particles such as protons and neutrons. By smashing heavy lead ions at temperatures 100,000 times as high as those at the sun's center and at energy densities never before reached in laboratory experiments, the scientists claim they have created a form of matter, "quark-gluon" soup or plasma, that has not existed since a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang created the universe. Although the evidence is indirect, since the particles were measured after they returned to a confined state, many believe that this "Little Bang" verifies a key part of the Big Bang theory -- that quarks and gluons existed in a free state before they joined to form the larger particles that make up the atom. CERN is winding down its current research, and the momentum for high-energy science research will transfer to the US, where a new facility in New York, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), is due to begin experiments later this year.
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