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Worlds Biggest Particle Accelerator is Back: The Large Hadron Collider


The Large Hadron Collider. Now that's a particle collider.
The Large Hadron Collider. Now that’s a particle collider.

The Large Hadron Collider has been resurrected this past Easter weekend, which seems a bit fitting. It was shut down for two years back in February 2013, but now the biggest particle accelerator is back up and running. That doens’t mean it’s necessarily at full power, according to Paul Collier, the head of beams at CERN. It’ll take two months to get the LHC to the point where it can collect collision data and perform the actual experiments.

“It’s not like flipping a switch, that’s for sure,” Collier says.CERN’s physicists first have to increase the machine’s energy over time. “We’re talking early to mid-June, when we can take the first high energy data, [but] at this stage the collision rate will be fairly low,” he says. “The next stage, which is done in parallel with data taking, is to steadily increase the number of protons.”

Increasing the proton number means increasing the collision rate inside the machine, and the temperature as well. By the end of 2015, the particle beam’s energy inside the LHC will reach its peak, which has actually never happened with a particle accelerator before.

For those who don’t know, The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a $10 billion particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland. Its operation led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson back in 2012. That particular finding filled in a gap of something like forty years of searching for the finished Standard Model of particle physics, one of physics’ most important theories.

However, the Standard Model is still incomplete.

There’s another theory called supersymmetry, which suggests there is an undiscovered partner particle for every particle in the Standard Model. Those proposed particles are among those that scientists at CERN want to find now that this particle accelerator is back online. One particle they want to find is called a “dark matter particle.” For those who don’t know, dark matter is a mystery, neither deflects or absorbs light, and takes up 26% of the universe. Because of the changes that were made at the LHC, researchers now believe it might be possible to create the particle that makes up dark matter and figure out how to detect it. The theories aren’t just limited to particles either: they’re also going to be looking for weird exotic phenomena, like tiny black holes and rolled up dimensions, both of which are things that sound like sci-fi terminology but are actually real phenomena.

The Large Hadron Collider was shut down back in 2013 because there were ten thousand electrical interconnections between the supercooled magnets of the machine that needed reinforcing.

“We basically spent two years reinforcing these junctions, such that they can withstand anything that we can throw at them in terms of the energy of the machine,” Collier says.

The last few months have been spent trying to cool the machine down. The LHC operates at 1.9 Kelvin, or -456 Fahrenheit. They also wanted to make sure there weren’t any electrical issues.

“What we’ve put together is almost a new machine,” Collier says. “And, of course, we’re also booting it into a new regime in terms of the power of the machine — the energy at which the beams collide.” Because of the changes that the scientists made, the LHC is now 60 percent more powerful than it was in 2012. “Nobody has ever been here before, so that in itself is very exciting.”

Some of this stuff can fly over the average person’s head, and the rest of it can fly way over, but needless to say, this is some incredible stuff happening here. Stay tuned for a primer on the LHC and the Higgs Boson soon!

[via The Verge]

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