In Connolly's "The Gates", the narrator says, rather superciliously, "The Large Hadron Collider is, as the name suggests, large." I realised that I had always thought of it as the (Large Hadron) Collider, since its goal is to discover extremely massive particles, rather than the Large (Hadron Collider). CERN says "The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator", which suggests that my interpretation is wrong. (Also, there is the "Large Electron–Positron Collider", which, since 'large electron' is meaningless, must clearly be a "Large (Electron–Positron Collider)".) Does anyone know for sure?

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    There's a Very Large Hadron Collider thought about conceptually, a hadron is any particle made of quark and gluon. Maybe you could ask on Se physics if there's such thing as a small or big hadron and you'll get your answer indirectly.
    – P. O.
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 19:43
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    Lists of noun-modifiers are ambiguously parsed as to what they are modifying. It's a large collider of hadrons. Hadrons are as big as they are.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 19:45
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    I found nothing googling for it, it's an interesting question. You could ask to CERN, they've got a Twitter, fb etc account, they might just answer you
    – P. O.
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 20:41
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    I think the large hadrons are not the ones being collided but rather ones produced in the collisions. So I'm pretty sure that "large" applies to the collider, not to the hadrons. Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 21:38
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    I've always understood the name to refer to the physical size of the device.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 23:30

3 Answers 3


The "large" refers to the machine, not to the hadrons. The name was chosen in 1984, and the "large" part was carried over from the "Large Electron-Positron Collider", in whose tunnel the LHC was built (the LHC was the successor to the LEPC)

Presumably since they were calling the old machine "large", they kept that part of the name when they expanded it into the new machine.

I'm not sure about this, but i suspect the "large" was originally added to the LEPC's name simply due to the enormous scale of the tunnels, which were far bigger than anything that had ever been built to date. If there were other electron-positron colliders, then the addition of "large" would make the LEPC seem more unique, and thus more attractive as a funding proposition.

The planned (and at this time totally hypothetical) successor to the LHC has the working title of "The Very Large Hadron Collider". Obviously, the hadrons themselves won't be getting any larger.

EDIT - if you're interested in the history of the LHC and the hunt for the Higgs Boson, then I can highly recommend a book called "The Particle At The End Of The Universe", by Sean Carroll.


The large hadron collider is called that because it collides hadrons and is large, not because it collides large hadrons, and not because it was designed to produce large hadrons in its collisions. The particles it is looking for are not necessarily hadrons; one of its primary goals was to find the Higgs boson, which is not a hadron.

In fact, what it collides these days is usually protons, which are among the smaller hadrons. However, protons are not the limits of its capability. Wikipedia says that it has also collided lead nuclei, and it could presumably be configured to collide arbitrary nuclei. Since nuclei are composed of neutrons and protons, which are hadrons, it's a Large (Hadron Collider).


The LHC is the largest machine in the world and the most complex too. It consists in a 27 km ring full of superconducting magnets and at least 3 very big experimental laboratories

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    "The largest machine" probably requires a careful definition of what a 'machine' is, but I already quoted CERN's assertion that it is "the largest particle accelerator". However, my question was not whether it was large, but rather whether the 'large' in its name refers to its size, or the size of the hadrons that it collides.
    – LSpice
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 19:41

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