What’s the world made of? How does it all work? Looking to shed light on those fundamental questions, the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) went big. Really big. Its Large Hadron Collider was constructed to help re-create the conditions of the universe’s earliest days—well before Earth existed.

It took more than a decade to complete the project, and scientists at the time feared if it wasn’t successful that other ambitious research efforts would fall victim in the aftermath. Fortunately, that concern proved hypothetical: The team delivered.

The Large Hadron Collider is a 27-kilometer (16.8-mile) ring of superconducting magnets, among the most powerful particle accelerators ever built. It rests below ground outside Geneva, Switzerland, with the particles shooting into France and back. That takes some serious precision: The particles the collider accelerates are so small that making them collide is akin to firing two needles 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) apart and having them meet halfway.

Since its debut in 2008, the collider has been smashing trillions and trillions of protons together so researchers can study the results. One of the team’s highest-profile achievements was identifying the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that’s one of the keys to understanding the universe. Project spokesman Joe Incandela, after the Higgs discovery, said: “It’s something that may, in the end, be one of the biggest observations of any new phenomena in our field in the last 30 or 40 years.”