"If you want to understand the big, you have to understand the small," Primack said.
Dark matter and energy
Primack proposed an idea for dark matter in 1982 that is still a leading contender: The notion that supersymmetry is responsible for dark matter.
That means that for every particle we know, even the Higgs, there is a partner particle with similar interactions but that is more massive. All these partner particles are unstable except for the lightest one, which can't decay into anything else. Dark matter would be this lightest particle, called a weakly interacting massive particle, or WIMP.
There are several underground experiments worldwide that are aiming to detect these dark matter "WIMPs," such as the LUX Dark Matter experiment in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where liquid xenon is stored a mile underground.
Similar experiments include the Xenon 100 experiment at the Gran Sasso Mountain in central Italy. Scientists will go even deeper at the PandaX experiment at the China Jin-Ping Underground Laboratory, located under 1.5 miles of rock.
The principle behind these experiments is that particles hitting the xenon cause the nucleus of the atom to give off a little bit of light. By examining the resulting charge and light produced in this collision, scientists can determine whether dark matter was involved. At least, in theory -- so far, no dark matter has been detected that way.
These experiments are happening at the same time that the LHC is colliding particles, and may find evidence of dark matter that way.
"It really feels like we're on the verge of a breakthrough," Primack said.
Meanwhile, in space, scientists are looking for the signatures of dark matter and dark energy. Riess and colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure supernovae that are very far away, showing that dark energy must be responsible for how the universe appears to expand faster and faster. This won them the Nobel Prize in 2011.
The James Webb Telescope, costing about $8 billion, will succeed Hubble. The planned telescope will have a 21-foot diameter mirror, six times as big as Hubble's. Among other things, this telescope is also looking for evidence of dark matter and dark energy.
"There's a huge synergy there, in astronomers trying to find the influence of dark matter by mapping stars and galaxies and large structures in the universe, and particle physicists trying to discover the source of that influence of dark matter through subatomic particles here on Earth," said Jason Kalirai, deputy project scientist for the telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
What technology may come
The question remains: What is this all good for?
There's the pure satisfaction of having greater knowledge of the universe in which we live.
"It's just one of the things that distinguishes humanity, that we can actually answer questions that are deep and fundamental, make predictions and do science, and that it actually works," said Lisa Randall, professor of physics at Harvard and author of "Knocking on Heaven's Door."
Consider also that all the technology you know can be traced to pure research, initially perceived as esoteric. Electric lights -- and, indeed all of electricity -- came from fundamental research in the 19th century.
Computers and transistors arose from the understanding of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and 1930s, Incandela said.
Certainly, Einstein didn't know that his relativity theories would become pertinent to your smartphone's GPS. The atomic clocks on satellites must be corrected because, in accordance to Einstein's predictions, moving objects in space are on a different "time" relative to an observer on Earth.
"Technology usually lags pure science by a large amount of time, and I would say, probably now there's a good chance we're further ahead of technology than ever before," Incandela said.
Even the World Wide Web arose out of a proposal from Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, who was a physicist at CERN in the 1980s. Essentially, the reason we have the Internet that we all know and love is that Berners-Lee wanted to enable better communication among physicists there.
It's likely, Primack said, that useful things will also come from the searches for dark matter and dark energy, and for other particles that the LHC is hunting. No one knows what the uses will be yet -- but then again, no one predicted that the World Wide Web would arise at a particle physics lab, either. CERN is, in fact, the same laboratory that houses the LHC.
Nothing is certain, of course, it is at least possible that doing this pure science could help bring into reality the sorts of technologies that right now seem like science fiction.
"If we're really going to explore the universe, in terms of actually moving through the universe and having the ability to do space exploration that's what you see in the movies, so to speak, the 'Star Trek' type things, in principle, we're going to need to understand and have the ability to harness the potential of nature at a level that we don't have now," Incandela said.