Large Hadron Collider swirls to unprecedented levels of energy

In this file photo, members of the media receive a briefing next to the compact muon solenoid detector assembly in a tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Nuclear Research Organization in Ceci, France.—AFP

Paris: Ten years after the discovery of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is about to begin blasting protons together at unprecedented energy levels to uncover further mysteries about how the universe works.

The world’s largest and most powerful Particle Collider launched back in April after a three-year break for an upgrade in preparation for its third run.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced in a press briefing last week that starting Tuesday it will run round the clock for nearly four years at a record energy of 13.6 trillion electronvolts.

It will send two beams of protons – particles in the nucleus of an atom – in opposite directions at the speed of light around a 27-kilometer (17-mile) ring buried 100 meters below the Swiss-French border.

World’s most powerful collider will send two beams of protons in opposite directions at close to the speed of light

The resulting collisions will be recorded and analyzed by thousands of scientists as part of experiments including ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCB, which will use the increased power to probe dark matter, dark energy and other fundamental mysteries.

“We aim to deliver 1.6 billion proton-proton collisions per second for the ATLAS and CMS experiments,” said Mike Lamont, CERN’s accelerator and head of technology.

This time the proton beam will be compressed to less than 10 microns — a human hair is about 70 microns thick — to increase the rate of collisions, he said.

The new energy rate will allow them to further investigate the Higgs boson, which was first observed by the Large Hadron Collider on July 4, 2012.

The discovery revolutionized physics partly because the boson fits within the Standard Model—the mainstream theory of all the fundamental particles that make up matter and what governs them.

However, several recent findings have raised questions about the Standard Model, and the newly upgraded collider will look at the Higgs boson in more depth.

“The Higgs boson deals with some of the most deeply open questions in fundamental physics today,” said CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti, who first announced the discovery of the boson a decade ago.

Compared to the first run of the collider to search for bosons, this time there will be about 20 times more collisions. “This is a significant increase, paving the way for new discoveries,” Lamont said.

CERN’s head of research and computing, Joachim Mnich, said there is much more to learn about bosons. “Is the Higgs Boson really a fundamental particle or is it a compound?” He asked.

“Is this the only Higgs-like particle that exists – or are there others?”

Previous experiments have determined the mass of the Higgs boson, as well as more than 60 composite particles predicted by the Standard Model, such as the tetraquark.

But Gian Giudice, head of CERN’s Department of Theoretical Physics, said observing the particles is only part of the work. “Particle physics doesn’t just want to understand how — our goal is to understand why,” he said.

Among the nine experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are Alice, which investigates matter that existed in the first 10 microseconds after the Big Bang, and LHCF, which uses collisions to simulate cosmic rays.

Following this run, the collider will return as the High-Luminosity LHC in 2029, increasing the number of detectable events by a factor of 10.

In addition, scientists are planning the Future Circular Collider – a 100 km ring that aims to reach an energy of 100 trillion electronvolts. But for now, physicists are eagerly awaiting the results of the Large Hadron Collider’s third run. “A new physics session is starting,” CERN said.

Published in Dawn, July 5, 2022