Atom smasher ramps up collisions
GENEVA: The world’s largest atom smasher produced 50,000 proton collisions at the highest energy level ever recorded, the operators said Monday.
The weekend run demonstrated how well the Large Hadron Collider is working in preparation for going to even higher energy level next year for experiments to delve further into the makeup of matter, said Rolf Heuer, director-general of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
The new $10 billion machine, which has made a nearly flawless comeback after being heavily
damaged during a startup collapse a year ago, was built to examine suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter and ultimately the creation of the universe billions of years ago, which many theorize occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.
“After only three weeks of running it almost felt like routine operation in the CERN control centre,” said Heuer.
The LHC provided well over 1 million lower-energy collisions to each of the major “experiments” — massive detectors in cathedral-sized rooms along the 27-km circular
accelerator in a tunnel 100 metres
underground near Geneva, on the Swiss-French border.
The low energy collisions enabled operators to calibrate the machine and detectors with showers of particles already discovered so that there will be a solid basis for understanding what happens when higher energy experiments start in the first half of next year. Heuer said all experiments got “a very good set of data” from long periods of stable beams.
Two beams of circulating
particles travelling in opposite directions at 1.18 trillion electron volts
produced the collisions, about 20
percent higher than the previous record set by the Tevatron collider at Fermilab outside Chicago.
The particle beams travel at nearly the speed of light, circling the tunnel in fire-hose-sized pipes 11,000 times a second until powerful, superconducting magnets force the beams to collide to see what will occur.
“The experiments saw about 50,000 collisions” at the higher energy,
said Heuer. “With only three days
of operation to go before the
end-of-the-year technical stop, the experiments have many events to look at in the new year, and the LHC operators have learned a lot about their machine, which is running more smoothly than anyone could have expected.” Major new scientific discoveries are expected after the beams are ramped up still higher, to 3.5 TeV, probably by February.
The collider was started with great fanfare Sept. 10, 2008, only to be heavily damaged by an electrical fault nine days later. It took 14 months to repair and add protection systems to the machine before it was restarted. The overall price of repairs and improvements is expected to cost $40 million, according to CERN.
The long-term goal, after more modifications, will be to run the proton beams at 7 TeV in each direction - with seven times the energy for collisions that is available at Fermilab.
The higher the energy and the greater the number of protons in
the beam, the more likely it will be that the scientists will discover particles and forces.
Still, it could take several years before the collider discovers the elusive Higgs boson, aparticle that theoretically gives mass to other subatomic particles - and thus everything in the universe. It is believed the Higgs boson is hard to see and needs powerful energy to be revealed.