Engineers install a giant magnet inside the Large Hadron Collider, an enormous particle accelerator.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

One hundred meters (or about 328 feet) underground, beneath the border between France and Switzerland, there's a circular machine that might reveal to us the secrets of the universe. Or, according to some people, it could destroy all life on Earth instead. One way or another, it's the world's largest machine and it will examine the universe's tiniest particles. It's the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is part of a project helmed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN. The LHC joins CERN's accelerator complex outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Once it's switched on, the LHC will hurl beams of protons and ions at a velocity approaching the speed of light. The LHC will cause the beams to collide with each other, and then record the resulting events caused by the collision. Scientists hope that these events will tell us more about how the universe began and what it's made of.

The LHC is the most ambitious and powerful particle accelerator built to date. Thousands of scientists from hundreds of countries are working together -- and competing with one another -- to make new discoveries. Six sites along the LHC's circumference gather data for different experiments. Some of these experiments overlap, and scientists will be trying to be the first to uncover important new information.

The purpose of the Large Hadron Collider is to increase our knowledge about the universe. While the discoveries scientists will make could lead to practical applications down the road, that's not the reason hundreds of scientists and engineers built the LHC. It's a machine built to further our understanding. Considering the LHC costs billions of dollars and requires the cooperation of numerous countries, the absence of a practical application may be surprising.

­What do scientists hope to find by using the LHC? Keep reading to find out.

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