Science TED-Ed

Five videos that make particle physics child’s play: Physicists from CERN team up with TED-Ed

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Particle physics. To some, the words may produce anxiety. And while, yes, it is complicated — it is far from incomprehensible. On May 3, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, better known as CERN, held its first TEDx event, an illuminating look at how particle physics intersects with other disciplines.

As part of TEDxCERN, physicists from the famous institution, home of  the Large Hadron Collider (and birthplace of the Word Wide Web), teamed up with animators from TED-Ed to create easy-to-understand animated lessons that explain concepts like dark matter, big data and the Higgs boson in lay terms.

Below, watch all five animations and find out: How did the universe begin? What’s up with antimatter? And why is everyone so excited about the Higgs boson? Enjoyable whether you are new to these terms or have been studying them for years.

The beginning of the universe, for beginners. (Lesson by Tom Whyntie, animation by Hornet Inc.)
How did the universe begin — and how is it expanding? CERN physicist Tom Whyntie shows how cosmologists and particle physicists explore these questions by replicating the heat, energy and activity of the first few seconds of our universe, from right after the Big Bang.

Exploration on the Big Data frontier. (Lesson by Tim Smith, animation by TED-Ed.)
There is a mind-boggling amount of data floating around our society. Physicists at CERN have been pondering how to store and share their data for decades – stimulating globalization of the internet along the way, while “solving” their big data problem. Tim Smith plots CERN’s involvement with big data from 50 years ago to today.

Dark matter: The matter we can’t see. (Lesson by James Gillies, animation by TED-Ed.)
The Greeks had a simple and elegant formula for the universe: earth, fire, wind and water. Turns out there’s more to it than that — a lot more. Visible matter (and that goes beyond the four Greek elements) comprises only 4% of the universe. CERN scientist James Gillies tells us what accounts for the remaining 96% (dark matter and dark energy) and how we might go about detecting it.

What happened to antimatter? (Lesson by Rolf Landua, animation by TED-Ed.)
Particles come in pairs, which is why there should be an equal amount of matter and antimatter in the universe. Yet scientists have not been able to detect antimatter in the visible universe. Where is this missing particle? CERN scientist Rolf Landua returns to the seconds after the Big Bang to explain the disparity that allows humans to exist today.

The basics of boson. (Lesson by Dave Barney and Steven Goldfarb, animation by Jeanette Nørgaard.)
In 2012, scientists at CERN discovered evidence of the Higgs boson. The what? The Higgs boson is one of two types of fundamental particles, and it’s a particular game-changer in the field of particle physics, proving how particles gain mass. Using the Socratic method, CERN scientists Dave Barney and Steve Goldfarb explain the exciting implications of the Higgs boson.