The new LHC particle accelerator in Geneva is operating at 480 bunches per beam. A bunch is about a hundred billion protons, each one carrying the energy of about a mosquito in flight. When put together, 480 of these bunches have the energy of a 20,000 ton aircraft carrier going at 3 knots. When the LHC is at full capacity, because it’s actually designed to run at 2808 bunches per beam, the beam will have the energy of the same carrier going at 13 knots. Imagine a carrier going at 13 knots and hitting just about any object. I can’t imagine any man-made object that could resist such an impact.
To imagine how many protons are in a bunch, if these protons were each the size of a marble, a bunch would be as long as the distance between Earth and Uranus, and about as wide as the distance between the Earth and the Moon. They are so far apart that the distance between the marbles would be from Miami, FL to Charleston, SC. These bunches are made to collide against each other to cause proton-proton interactions, but they’re so far apart that we only get a few events per beam.
Particle physics is a statistical game, so we have to get a bunch of events and samples in order to get results. The LHC has already exceeded its expectations, and it’s not even at a fifth of its capacity.
For more pictures of the LHC during construction, see the following: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/11/large_hadron_collider_ready_to.html