Tag Archives: LHC

Space and Physics Developments to Look Forward to in 2021

Unfortunately, science journalists don’t generally carry crystal balls as part of their arsenal, and if 2020 taught us anything, it’s not always safe to predict what the forthcoming year will bring. With that said, there are some space and physics developments that we can be fairly certain that will come to pass in 2021.

These are ZME Science’s tips for the top space science and physics events scheduled to occur in 2021.

Back to the Beginning with the James Webb Launch

It’s almost impossible to talk about the future of astronomy without mentioning NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). To call the launch of Webb ‘much-anticipated’ is a vast understanding.

The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and unitized pallet structures that will fold up around the telescope for launch (NASA)

The reason astronomers are getting so excited about the JWST is its ability to see further into the Universe, and thus further back in its history than any telescope ever yet devised. This will allow astronomers to observe the violent and tumultuous conditions in the infant Universe. Thus, it stands poised to vastly improve our knowledge of the cosmos and its evolution.

Part of the reason for JWST’s impressive observational power lies in its incredible sensitivity to infrared light–with longer wavelengths than light visible with the human eye.

The ability to observe the early Universe could help settle confusion about what point in its history galaxies began to form. Whilst the current consensus is that galaxies began to form in later epochs, a wealth of recent research has suggested that galaxies could have formed much earlier than previously believed.

“Galaxies, we think, begin building up in the first billion years after the big bang, and sort of reach adolescence at 1 to 2 billion years. We’re trying to investigate those early periods,” explains Daniel Eisenstein, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and part of the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES). “We must do this with an infrared-optimized telescope because the expansion of the universe causes light to increase in wavelength as it traverses the vast distance to reach us.”

An artist’s impression of the JWST in place after its 2021 launch (ESA)

The reason infrared is so important to observe the early Universe is that even though the stars are emitting light primarily in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths, travelling these incredible distances means light is shifted into the infrared.

“Only Webb can get to the depth and sensitivity that’s needed to study these early galaxies.”

Daniel Eisenstein, Havard University

After years of setbacks and delays and an estimated cost of $8.8 billion the JWST is set to launch from French Guiana, South America, on 31st October 2021.

JET Will Have Star Power

The race is on to achieve fusion power as a practical energy source here on Earth. Nuclear fusion is already the process that powers the stars, but scientists are looking to make it an energy source much closer to home.

Internal view of the JET tokamak superimposed with an image of a plasma ( EFDA-JET)

When it comes to bringing star power down to Earth the Joint European Torus (JET)–the world’s largest tokamak–leads the way, housing plasmas hotter than are found anywhere else in the solar system, barring the Sun.

A tokamak is a device that uses a powerful magnetic field to trap plasma, confining it in a doughnut-like shape. Containing and controlling these plasmas is the key to generating energy through the fusion process. Within the plasma, particles collide with enough energy to fuse together forming new elements and releasing energy.

The process is cleaner and more efficient than fission power, which rips the atoms of elements apart, liberating energy whilst leaving behind radioactive waste.

JET itself isn’t a power station, rather it was designed to conduct experiments with plasma containment and study fusion in conditions that approach that which will be found in working fusion power plants. So, whilst the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)–set to be the world’s largest tokamak–is still under construction and won’t be operational until at least 2025, this year is set to be an important year for the experiment that inspired it.

Following upgrades conducted during 2020, JET is scheduled to begin experiments with a potent mix of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium (D-T). This fuel hasn’t been used since 1997 due to the difficulties presented by the handling of tritium– a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a nucleus of one proton and two neutrons.

The JET team will be looking to attain an output similar to the 16 megawatts of power that was achieved in ’97, but for a more sustained period and with less energy input. The initial test at the end of the 20th century consumed more power than it produced.

Back to the Moon in 2021

2021 will mark the 52nd anniversary of NASA’s historic moon landing and will see the launch of several missions back to Earth’s natural satellite as well as continuing efforts to send humans following in the footsteps of Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11.

Illustration of Orion performing a trans-lunar injection burn (NASA)

As part of NASA’s deep space exploration system, Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions designed to enable human exploration of the Moon and beyond.

“This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known. It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.” 

Mike Sarafin, the Artemis I mission manager.

Artemis I will begin its journey aboard the Orion spacecraft, which at the time of its launch in November will be the most powerful spacecraft ever launched by humanity producing a staggering 8.8 million pounds of thrust during liftoff. After leaving Earth’s orbit with the aid of solar arrays and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) Orion will head out to the moon deploying a number of small satellites, known as CubeSats.

After a three week journey to and from the moon and six weeks in orbit around the satellite, Orion will return home in 2022, thus completing a total journey of approximately 1.3 million miles.

The Chandrayaan 2 launch. The ISRO will be hoping for better luck with Chandrayaan 3 in 2021 (ISRO)

NASA isn’t the only space agency with its sights set on the moon in 2021. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch the Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander at some point in 2021. It will mark the third lunar exploration mission by ISRO following the Chandrayaan-2’s failure to make a soft landing on the lunar surface due to a communications snafu.

Chandrayaan-3 will be a repeat of this mission including a lander and rover module, but lacking an orbiter. Instead, it will rely on its predecessor’s orbiter which is still in good working despite its parent module’s unfortunate crash lander. Should Chandrayaan-3 succeed it will make India’s ISRO only the fourth space agency in history to pull off a soft-landing on the lunar surface.

(Robert Lea)

Back with a Blast: The LHC Fires Up Again

The world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) ceased operations in 2018 and this year, after high-luminosity upgrades, it will begin to collide particles again.

During its first run of collisions from 2008 to 2013 physicists successfully uncovered the Higgs Boson, thus completing the standard model of particle physics. With the number of collisions increased significantly, in turn, increasing the chance of spotting new phenomenon, researchers will be looking for clues of physics beyond the standard model.

All quiet at the LHC in 2019, but the world’s largest particle accelerator will fire up again in 2021 (Robert Lea)

The function of the LHC is to accelerate particles and guide them with powerful magnets placed throughout a circular chamber that runs for 17 miles beneath the French-Swiss border. When these particles collide they produce showers of ‘daughter’ particles, some that can only exist at high energy levels.

These daughter particles decay extremely quickly–within fractions of a second– and thus spotting them presents a massive challenge for researchers.

Luminosity when used in terms of particle accelerators refers to the number of particles that the machine can accelerate and thus collide. More collisions mean more daughter particles created, and a better chance of spotting exotic and rare never before seen particles and phenomena. Thus, high luminosity means more particles and more collisions.

To put these upgrades in context, during 2017 the LHC produced around 3 million Higgs Boson particles. When the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) begins operations, researchers at cern estimate it will be producing around 15 million Higgs Bosons per year.

After being shut down for upgrades in 2018, the LHC prepares to fire up again in 2021 (CERN)

Unfortunately, despite firing up for a third run after these high luminosity upgrades, there is still work to be done before the LHC becomes the HL-LHC.

The shutdown that is drawing to completion–referred to by the CERN team as  Long Shutdown 2 (LS2)–was just part of the long operations that are required to boost the LHC’s luminosity. The project began in 2011 and isn’t expected to reach fruition until at least 2027.

That doesn’t mean that the third run of humankind’s most audacious science experiment won’t collect data that reveals stunning facts about the physics that governs that cosmos. And that collection process will begin in 2021.

Quark-Gluon Plasma that filled the early Universe investigated by ALICE

The secrets of the Quark-Gluon Plasma that filled the early universe are being unlocked by the ALICE collaboration at CERN with the first measurement of the flow of bottomonium particles.

Quark-Gluon Plasma that filled the early Universe investigated by ALICE (Author's Collection)

Quark-Gluon Plasma that filled the early Universe investigated by ALICE (Author’s Collection)


In a paper presented at the European Physical Society’s conference on high-energy physics, the ‘A Large Ion Collider Experiment’ (ALICE) collaboration has documented the first-ever measurement of the flow of a heavy meson particle — bottomonium.

The measurement of particles like bottomonium — a type of ‘upsilon’ particle — helps the researchers understand the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) that filled the hot, dense early universe. 

By observing pairs of ‘heavy electrons’ — known as muons — produced by the decay of bottomonium, the team discovered bottomonium particles have small values of elliptic flow — a measure of how uniform energy and momentum is distributed across the particles when viewed from the beamline. 

This is quite unexpected as all other hadrons investigated thus far have exhibited significant elliptic flow. 

David Evans, a professor of high energy physics at the University of Birmingham, leads the UK participation in ALICE.

He says: “ Elliptical flow measurements in ALICE show that the Quark-Gluon Plasma flows like an almost perfect liquid, with the light quarks (up, down, strange, and charm) flowing with the system.”

“The fact that no significant elliptical flow is seen for the bottomonium suggests b-quarks are only produced in the initial collision of the lead ions, before the QGP is formed.”

The ALICE team’s results seem to support existing theories that bottonium and other upsilon particles split into their constituents during the early stages of their interactions with plasma.

This gives the researchers a better insight at the conditions in the early moments of the universe when it was filled with a plasma composed of free quarks and gluons. 

Evans continues: “This makes b-quarks (and particles made up of b-quarks) an ideal probe for studying the QGP as they experience the entire evolution of the system.”

Bottomonium particles — probing the Quark-Gluon Plasma at the dawn of the universe

Taking a trip through the ‘particle zoo’ to discover what these bottomonium particles actually are, helps us understand their role in the ALICE experiment. 

The six known types of quarks on the left and how they come together to form protons and neutrons on the right
The six known types of quarks on the left and how they come together to form protons and neutrons on the right

Bottonium is a heavy meson — particles which consist of a quark and its own antiparticle. In the case of bottomonium, a bottom (or beauty quark) — b quark — and its antiparticle counterpart.

These subatomic particles are extremely unstable, existing for short periods of time and only at high energies before decaying into other particles. When bottomonium decays it leaves behind a pair of ‘heavy electrons’ called muons. 

Bottomonium particles — which are formed in the LHC by the violent collision of heavy lead-lead ions — provide an excellent probe of the Quark-Gluon Plasma which filled the universe just a few millionths of a second after the big bang. 

Being produced so early in the collision event means bottomonium particles ‘experience’ the entire evolution of the plasma — from the moment it is produced to the moment it cools down and enters a state in which hadrons can form.

This extremely early stage in the universe’s evolution would have been the only time in history that quarks and gluons existed freely in plasma and not bound together in a state called ‘confinement’ in protons, neutrons and other hadrons.

These particles were only able to exist in this free state because of the incredible heat in the universe at this point. In our era, quarks and gluons are never observed as free particles.

Thus, it takes a tremendous amount of energy, to recreate these huge temperatures. At the moment, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the only piece of apparatus on Earth capable of doing this, with collisions in the LHC able to generate temperatures a 100 thousand times hotter than the Sun. 

At these temperatures, protons and neutrons ‘melt’, freeing quarks and gluons from confinement, thus creating a Quark-Gluon Plasma and allowing them to form short-lived, unstable particles like bottonium. 

ALICE: Collision queen

The ALICE collaboration — consisting of over a 1000 scientists operating a 10-thousand-tonne, 16m tall detector buried 56m under the Alps — achieves this high-energy feat by slamming together beams of lead ions rather than the proton-proton collisions used in other LHC experiments. 

The decay of upsilon particles — another type of meson — into muon pairs as the result of a lead-lead collision. The red lines track the two muons the orange lines track the other particles produced (CERN)
The decay of upsilon particles — another type of meson — into muon pairs as the result of a lead-lead collision. The red lines track the two muons the orange lines track the other particles produced (CERN)

The benefit of colliding lead ions is that, as ALICE is looking to create Quark-Gluon Plasma, the more quarks available to it, the better the chance of observing something significant. 

A single proton and neutron each contain three quarks but as lead ions contain at least 56 protons and at least 204 neutrons this leaves the team with far more quarks to play with. 

ALICE then measures this plasma as it expands and cools, but it is still unable to measure the particles created directly— instead deducing the presence and properties of QGP from the signatures on pairs of muons it produced by decay. 

One of these signatures is the elliptic flow — the collective movement of the produced particles determined by several factors like particle type, mass, the angle at which the particles meet and the momentum they possess as they collide —  which is what the team measured. The flow is created by the expansion of hot plasma after the collision of the lead ions.

Upgrading ALICE: More collisions. More Quarks. More Results

Perhaps the most promising thing about ALICE’s mission to probe the early universe and its conditions is the fact that the forthcoming high-luminosity upgrade only promises to yield more data for researchers to investigate.

The ALICE Experiment is about to be revitalised (CERN)

The upgrade — which CERN hopes will be operational by 2021— aims to increase the luminosity of the LHC by a factor of 10. Luminosity, as described in reference to particle accelerators, is proportional to the number of collisions that occur. Thus increasing the luminosity also means increasing the number of collisions.

As an example of the usefulness of this upgrade, whereas the LHC produced 3 million Higgs boson particles in 2017, the High-Luminosity LHC is expected to produce 15 million per year.

In addition to the High-Luminosity upgrade — on which work began in 2018 — ALICE will also several other upgrades and improvements. As a result of these improvements, the ALICE team expect an overall gain of 100 times the current results.

Evans says: “With this huge increase in statistics and a new inner detector in ALICE, we will be able to measure particles made of b-quarks with much higher precision.”

As such, the experiment stands a very good chance of significantly improving our knowledge of the quark-gluon plasma and the conditions in the early universe, with these new bottomonium results pointing the way.

Evans concludes: “[The upgrades] allow us to probe the properties of the QGP in much more detail and hence learn more about the evolution of the early universe.”

Credit: CERN.

CERN draws up plans for new particle accelerator four times bigger than the LHC

Credit: CERN.

Credit: CERN.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is, at present, the largest scientific instrument in the world. One hundred meters underground, beneath the border between France and Switzerland, the LHC uses intense magnetic fields generated by superconductivity to accelerate hadrons (i.e. protons) in a circular path 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, has now announced plans for an even bigger particle accelerator — a 100 kilometers (62 miles) circular tunnel set to dwarf the LHC.

The concept for the proposed ‘Future Circular Collider’ appeared in a CERN report released on Tuesday. According to the document, the €20bn mega-science project will ultimately be able to accelerate protons and slam them together with 100 teraelectronvolts of energy, or nearly 10 times that of the Large Hadron Collider.

However, this might not happen until 2050. Until then, the FCC will be built and operated in stages, slowly ramping up its energy. At first, CERN scientists say that the FCC will only collide electrons and positrons (their antimatter counterparts), and slowly progress towards electron collisions with much heavier nuclei of lead atoms.

“It shows the tremendous potential of the FCC to improve our knowledge of fundamental physics and to advance many technologies with a broad impact on society,” said Prof. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s Director-General.

Artist impression of the FCC. Credit: CERN.

Artist impression of the FCC. Credit: CERN.

The stupendous energy involved in these collisions will enable scientists to study the Higgs boson with more precision but also generate new particles predicted by the Standard Model of physics. The Higgs is the particle which gives other particles their mass, making it both centrally important and seemingly magical. Its existence was predicted by British physicist Peter Higgs in 1964 and was not discovered until 2012. The following year, Peter Higgs was awarded the much deserved Nobel Prize in Physics.

The FCC should also lead to the discovery of completely new particles that aren’t included yet in the Standard Model. This is our best model that explains the inner workings of the physical world — but it’s far from perfect. For instance, galaxies are spinning faster than the Standard Model predicts, the Universe’s expansion is accelerating rather than slowing down — and, to top it all off, the Standard Model doesn’t even include gravity.

The ambitious conceptual design will be submitted for consideration for the upcoming 2020 European strategy for particle physics. Financing such a behemoth science project won’t be easy, though. In 1993, the United States canceled the Superconducting Super Collider, which was designed to be a bit smaller than the FCC. Last year, Japan put its $7bn Linear Collider on hold because a committee concluded the costs were running too high. FCC’s fate will depend on a complex cost-benefit analysis which will have to determine to what extent such a massive undertaking will benefit humanity.


Liniac 4.

CERN celebrates completion of Liniac 4, its most powerful linear accelerator

In about three years from now, the LHC will receive its most powerful linear accelerator yet.

Liniac 4.

Image credits CERN.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is set to get an upgrade. During a ceremony today, CERN inaugurated its newest linear accelerator, Linac 4. By 2021, it will feed CERN’s accelerator complex with higher-energy particle beams than currently possible, allowing the collider to reach higher luminosity levels.

“We are delighted to celebrate this remarkable accomplishment. Linac 4 is a modern injector and the first key element of our ambitious upgrade programme, leading up to the High-Luminosity LHC. This high-luminosity phase will considerably increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new physics and measuring the properties of the Higgs particle in more detail,” said CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti.

While there’s a lot of enthusiasm around Liniac 4, CERN researchers will have to be patient until they can start toying with the new gear. The accelerator will have to pass an extensive period of testing before it’s connected to the accelerator complex at CERN, which will take place during the upcoming technical shut down scheduled for 2019-2020.

During the shutdown, Liniac 4 will replace Liniac 2, which has been in service since 1978, becoming the first part of CERN’s accelerator chain and supplying proton beams for all the facility’s needs. Liniac 4 measures in at about 90 meters long (295 feet), and will be installed 12 meters underground. The device took almost 10 years to build.

What does it do, though?

The linear accelerator is the first essential component of an accelerator chain. It’s the bit where the particles are produced and given initial acceleration, and it’s here that the researchers can tweak the density and intensity of the beams.

The plan is to have this new accelerator send negative hydrogen ions (a regular hydrogen atom with one extra electron) to the Proton Synchrotron Booster (PSB), which will further accelerate these ions and strip them of the electrons in the process. Liniac 4 is designed to bring the beam up to 160 MeV energy, over three times more than its predecessor could churn out. By using hydrogen ions in the process together with this increase in energy output, the researchers will be able to double the intensity of the final beam delivered to the LHC, which should help increase its luminosity (the number of particles colliding withing a standard length of time) almost five-fold by 2025.

Armed with the Liniac 4, the LHC should be able to churn out about 10 times as much data in 2025-2035 than before. The so-called High-Luminosity LHC will help scientists glean more accurate measurements of the fundamental particles than ever before and allow them the possibility of observing rare processes that occur beyond the machine’s present sensitivity level.

CERN just released 300 TB of LHC data online

For the amateur physicists out there, I have some great news: CERN just made the biggest data dump in the history of particle physics, sharing 300 TB of Large Hadron Collider (LHC) data online. It’s completely free, and it’s high quality data too, from the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the LHC. Anyone can access it, and if you’re into particle physics – yes, you should.

CERN data visualization.

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world. It’s a fitting construction for a machine built to unravel the very fabric of the Universe – the subatomic particles which make out elementary particles and atoms.

As you’d expect from such a large project, it came up with a trove of data – valuable, high quality data – and in the spirit of good science, the lead researchers decided to make it available for everyone, for free.

“[O]nce we’ve exhausted our exploration of the data, we see no reason not to make them available publicly,” says Kati Lassila-Perini, who works on the CMS experiment.

“The benefits are numerous, from inspiring high-school students to the training of the particle physicists of tomorrow. And personally, as CMS’s data-preservation co-ordinator, this is a crucial part of ensuring the long-term availability of our research data.”

Of course, the data isn’t going to be easy to understand – this isn’t your average pretty picture with a caption beside it. The good thing is that if you really want to start looking through it, you can do it with a regular computer or a laptop, which means it can be addressed at a university or even high school level.

This data can spark new interest in physics, but it can even lead to new discoveries. It’s quite possible that researchers might have missed some things, and people looking over open-source data is a great possibility to re-check that data. New findings are constantly being made with open-source data in archaeology and medicine, among others.

New LHC results could be a back-breaker for the Standard Model of Physics

We can’t call it a major discovery. Not yet. However, there are some indications that researchers working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have discovered something beyond our current understanding of Physics – something that’s outside the Standard Model.

“To put it in terms of the cinema, where we once only had a few leaked scenes from an much-anticipated blockbuster, the LHC has finally treated fans to the first real trailer,” says Prof. Mariusz Witek (IFJ PAN), one of the members of the team that made the discovery.

Image via CERN.

The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built and the single largest machine in the world. With it, physicists hope to uncover some of the most daunting secrets of the Universe and to better understand the sub-atomic particle world, which governs interaction between all types of matter.

The Standard Model is a theory that attempts to classify all the subatomic particles in the world, as well as the interactions between them. So far, everything that the LHC found confirmed the Standard Model, including the famous Higgs Boson – one of the pivotal points of particle physics. But this was bound to happen at some point. The Standard Model is incomplete, and there are significant gaps in our understanding of physics. Most notably, the model doesn’t account for gravity at all, which leaves a shed load of unanswered questions.

“Up to now all measurements match the predictions of the standard model,” said lead researcher Mariusz Witek, from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. “However, we know that the standard model cannot explain all the features of the Universe. It doesn’t predict the masses of particles or tell us why fermions are organised in three families. How did the dominance of matter over antimatter in the universe come about? What is dark matter? Those questions remain unanswered.”

The discrepancy deals with  particle called the B meson, a meson composed of a bottom antiquark and either an up, down, strange or charm quark — yes, those are real names and yes, particle physics is strange. The Standard Model predicts very specific decay frequencies and angles, but the theory doesn’t match the observations, so something else is at work.

At this point, it absolutely has to be said that this is not a confirmed discovery. We need more data to be sure that what’s found is for real. However, if it does turn out to be real, it means we may be dealing with a completely new particle. We’re going to have to wait for confirmation, and that may take a while.

“Just like it is with a good movie: everybody wonders what’s going to happen in the end, and nobody wants to wait for it,” says Witek.

Hints of Higgs Boson spark floods of science papers

Almost 100 manuscripts have been submitted following last week’s tantalizing announcement from CERN.

Paul Ginsparg/arXiv

Paul Ginsparg/arXiv

Social media started going crazy on the 15th of December, abuzz with the rumor of finding a boson heavier than the elusive Higgs Boson. Something must be up because since then 95 research manuscripts have been posted to the preprint server arXiv discussing the hypothetical particle.

It all started when scientists working at the particle accelerator reported a very interesting signal, although we’re not quite sure what to make of it yet. Tiziano Camporesi, a spokesperson for the LHC’s CMS experiment, told Nature that he expects even more papers to come up in the near future.

“I am extremely curious to see what our theorist friends will cook up,” he said.

Gian Francisco Giudice, a physicist from CERN published a 32-page paper analyzing the findings from CERN at the same time public announcements were made. His paper already has 68 citations, although the statistical significance of these findings seems relatively low.

Pairs of photons (green) produced in LHC collisions suggest the existence of a boson with a mass of 750 gigaelectronvolts. Image credits: CERN.

Lisa Randall of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts says that studying this signal is time well spent.

“It doesn’t necessarily hurt for people to think about what would give you such a signal,” she says. “Even if the signal goes away, you often learn a lot about what’s possible.”


CERN experiment to test if we can connect to another dimension

In an experiment proposal that sounds more like an evil genius’ plan than a reputable science endeavour, CERN’s LHC atom smasher in Geneva, Switzerland will be cranked up to the highest energy levels ever, as scientists hope to detect or create miniature black holes. If successful, scientists hope that the experiment might uncover extra dimensions hidden in our universe.

“Normally, when people think of the multiverse, they think of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, where every possibility is actualised. This cannot be tested and so it is philosophy and not science. This is not what we mean by parallel universes. What we mean is real universes in extra dimensions.”

Image via wired

Some of you might remember how in 2008, before the LHC’s power supply was turned on, the end-of-the-world-ers were picking up steam themselves trying to shut the collider down, going as far as filing a lawsuit against CERN with the European Court of Human Rights that argued: “such a scenario would violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law.” They were worried that our planet would be consumed by a miniature black hole, inadvertently created by CERN’s researchers.

Given the fact that “producing a miniature black hole” is now on the official timetable — presumably right under “Trolling 101” and “Haha” — a lot of people are bound to be worried about the latest CERN experiment. But, Switzerland is still on the map, a testament of the skill with which the collider itself and those that operate it dabble with forces so powerful they could literally break space-time.

The LHC is an immensely powerful tool: it allowed scientists to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the elusive “God particle,” and is now being used to gleam the secrets of dark matter — previously thought to be just an undetectable theoretical possibility. And even with all these achievements under its belt, next week’s experiment is considered to be a game changer.

“Just as many parallel sheets of paper, which are two dimensional objects [breadth and length] can exist in a third dimension [height], parallel universes can also exist in higher dimensions,” said Mir Faizal, one of the three physicists behind the experiment. “We predict that gravity can leak into extra dimensions, and if it does, then miniature black holes can be produced at the LHC.”

“As gravity can flow out of our universe into the extra dimensions, such a model can be tested by the detection of mini black holes at the LHC. We have calculated the energy at which we expect to detect these mini black holes in ‘gravity’s rainbow’ [a new scientific theory]. If we do detect mini black holes at this energy, then we will know that both gravity’s rainbow and extra dimensions are correct.”

When the LHC is fired up the energy is measured in Tera electron volts – a TeV being 1,000,000,000,000, or one trillion, electron Volts. So far, the search for mini black holes was carried out at energy levels just shy of 5.3 TeV. Recent studies however show that this is much too low, analytical models predicting black hole formation at values of at least 9.5 TeV in six dimensions and 11.9 TeV in ten dimensions.


LHC signals hint at flaws in the Standard Model of Physics

An intriguing signal reported at the LHC might signal some “cracks” in the Standard Model – the theory which describes how different forces interact with each other.

A view inside the LHCb experiment’s muon detector at the Large Hadron Collider. Image credits: CERN.

The LHC has already accumulated a trove of valuable data, and researchers are still working on analyzing it. Now, a study on data gathered during 2011–12 at the collider at CERN suggests that in some particular decays, some short-lived particles (B-mesons) create some particles (taus) more than others (muons); but according to the Standard Model, the decay should be happening at the same rate, so something is clearly not as expected. Let’s explain that a bit.

Quarks are elementary particles – they’re the smallest thing we know of, the very basis of subatomic particles. Hadrons are composite particles made of quarks. Mesons are a specific type of hadrons made from one quark and one anti-quark – and B-mesons are a type of mesons. They are very short-lived, so studying their decay is particularly difficult. The discrepancy that was observed is so small we can’t rule out a statistical fluctuation (a satisfying statistical threshold has not yet been reported).

But physicists are excited because a similar thing has been reported at two other experiments: the ‘BaBar’ experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, which reported it in 2012, and the ‘Belle’ experiment at Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Tsukuba, which reported its latest results at a conference in May. LHCb’s result is “bang on” the previous two. as Mitesh Patel, a physicist at Imperial College London who works on the experiment, explained.

“A 2-sigma difference in a single measurement isn’t interesting by itself,” says Tara Shears, a particle physicist at the University of Liverpool, UK, and a member of the LHCb collaboration. “But a series of 2-sigma differences, found in different types of decay and independently by different people in a different experiment, become very intriguing indeed.”

The “2-sigma” difference is an indicator of accuracy used in control charts. When comparing 2-sigma vs 3-sigma control charts, 3-sigma control charts help ensure process stability whereas 2 sigma control charts are used to detect small shifts in the project or process. For such discoveries, 5-sigma is usually required, while this discovery only has 2.1-sigma. But as Patel said, a series of 2-sigma is worth much more than just one, isolated event.

Since the 1970s, experiments have time and again proved the accuracy of the standard model – with surprising consistency. However, the Standard Model is incomplete at best, and quite possibly inexact as well. Its failure to account for gravity and dark matter seems to suggest that it’s merely an approximation of some other, underlying, and even more intriguing truth.

The finding will be published in Physical Review Letters this month (it’s already published on the arXiv pre-print server).

Pentaquark particle discovered by CERN scientists

After taking a short break in activity to be upgraded, the biggest atom smasher currently in use, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider came back in business, and it did so with a bang. Using it, researchers have discovered yet another new kind of particle dubbed “pentaquarks” -that amounts to a new form of matter.

Image via: zastavki.com

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said the discovery was made by a team working on one of the four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) beneath the Swiss-French border.

The existance of quark-type particles was independently predicted by American physicists Murray Gell-Mann and Georg Zweig in 1960. They theorised that key properties of the particles known as baryons and mesons were best explained if they were in turn made up of other, smaller particles. Zweig coined the term “aces” for the three new hypothesised building blocks, but it was Gell-Mann’s name “quark” that stuck.

Their model also allows for other particles such as the pentaquark, made up of four quarks and an anti-quark (they’re just like matter and anti-matter). Mr Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1969.

A meson (one quark and an anti-quark) and a baryon (three quarks) particles weakly bonded together.
Image via: bbc.com

“There is quite a history with pentaquarks, which is also why we were very careful in putting this paper forward,” Patrick Koppenburg, physics co-ordinator for LHCb at Cern, told BBC News.

During the mid-2000s, several teams claimed to have detected pentaquarks, but their discoveries were subsequently undermined by other experiments.

“It’s just the word ‘pentaquark’ which seems to be cursed somehow because there have been many discoveries that were then superseded by new results that showed that previous ones were actually fluctuations and not real signals.”

Previous experiments had measured only the so-called mass distribution where a statistical peak may appear against the background “noise” – the possible signature of a novel particle. But the collider enabled researchers to look at the data from additional perspectives, namely the four angles defined by the different directions of travel taken by particles within LHCb.

“We are transforming this problem from a one-dimensional to a five dimensional one… we are able to describe everything that happens in the decay,” said Dr Koppenburg who first saw a signal begin to emerge in 2012.

“There is no way that what we see could be due to something else other than the addition of a new particle that was not observed before.”

Guy Wilkinson, a spokesman for the LHC team, said studying pentaquarks may help scientists gain a better understanding of “how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted”.

The findings were submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters.


The LHC is back in business!

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has smashed its first particle since it was shut down two years ago. The particle accelerator is heating up with some low energy collisions, CERN said in a statement.

Proton beams collide for a total energy of 900 GeV in the ATLAS detector on the LHC (Image: ATLAS/CERN)

“At about half past nine CET this morning, for the first time since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) started up after two years of maintenance and repairs, the accelerator delivered proton-proton collisions to the LHC experiments ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb at an energy of 450 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) per beam,” the press release read.

In case you’re not aware what all the fuss is about, the LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator; it’s also the largest single machine in the world. The aim of the LHC is to allow physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and high-energy physics like the Standard Model, and in particular to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs Boson – a theoretical particle which is crucial to modern particle physics, as it is proposed by the Standard Model. So far, LHC has given some tantalizing evidence, but many physicists are still awaiting a confirmation of the boson’s discovery.

“It’s a nice milestone today,” said Dave Charlton, spokesperson for the LHC’s huge multipurpose Atlas detector. “There were a lot of smiling faces in the control room today.”

In 2012, the LHC was shut down for maintenance and to allow rising its power from 8 TeV to 13 TeV, allowing it to smash particles at at higher energies, potentially detecting new particles and particle interactions. So far, the particle accelerator went to “only” 450 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) per beam (0.45 TeV).

Courtesy of: CMS collaboration

“Though the first beam at 6.5 TeV circulated successfully in the LHC last month, there are many more steps before the accelerator will deliver high-energy collisions for physics to the LHC experiments. Well before the full physics programme begins, the LHC operations team will collide beams at 13 TeV to check the beam orbit, quality and stability,” CERN continued in their press release.

The particle accelerator is expected to reach full power in June.

Scientists prepare to re-open the LHC after increasing its energy output by 62.5%

It may be the dawn of a new age for particle physics – scientists and engineers are working together to restart the Large Hadron Collider. Upon reactivation, the LHC will be capable of energies never before achieved, potentially unveiling novel particles, confirming the Standard Model and revealing some of the Universe’s biggest mysteries.

Image via Boston.com

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, and the largest single machine in the world. The aim of this ambitious project is to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and high-energy physics – especially those of the Standard Model. The Standard Model of particle physics attempts to classify all the known subatomic particles, as well as the interactions between the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions.

The LHC has yielded some valuable results along the few years it worked, but now, physicists really want to take it to the next level. For this reason, they need more power, and so the collider was shut down since February 2013. Previously, they were able to accelerate protons up to an energy of 8 trillion electron volts (TeV), but the machine’s electromagnetic fields will now inject them with more energy, causing them to crash together at 13 TeV. The magnets that used to produce fields with a strength of 5.9 teslas will now create 7.7-tesla fields. The LHC’s energy boost might open new doors and allow researchers to observe never-before seen particles; one such particle is the Higgs Boson, which seemed to reveal itself in 2012.

“We opened all the interconnections, we checked them and we completely redid one third of them,” says Frédérick Bordry, head the accelerator division at LHC’s home laboratory, CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). “It was an interesting adventure.” Workers also did maintenance on thousands of other components of the machine and tested them thoroughly to make sure the collider is healthy. Bordry says he is confident the LHC will not see a repeat of the electrical glitch that caused major magnet damage just after the accelerator first opened seven years ago, delaying operations by 14 months.

Physicists are now itching their fingers to see how the more touchy parts of the Standard Model.

“We know the standard model can’t be a complete theory, can’t be the final answer, which is why it’s so frustrating that it’s behaved so well in run one,” says Tara Shears, a physicist at the University of Liverpool in England. “In run two we’re hoping to see cracks.”

Personally, I really look forward to the relaunch of the LHC. It’s just might be history in the making.

New Particles Found at Large Hadron Collider

It’s really awesome when the practice confirms the theory! Experiments at the Large Hadrdon Collider have revealed two never before seen particles – exotic types of baryons which were previously predicted by theoretical research. The new measurements serve to confirm and refine the existing theory of subatomic particles and help pave the way for the discovery of more particles predicted by the Standard Model.

The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, and actually the largest single machine in the world. Its goal is to test if theoretical predictions are correct and either confirm or infirm the Standard Model – a theory that classifies all the subatomic particles.

In this case, they discovered two types of baryons – Xiband Xib*(pronounced “zi-b-prime” and “zi-b-star”), February 10 in Physical Review Letters. (They posted a preprint of their paper in November on the arXiv server).

“These were two things that very much should have existed,” says Matthew Charles of Paris 6 University Pierre and Marie Curie, a co-author of the study. “Of course, you still have to check because every now and then you get a surprise.”

Baryons are composite subatomic particles made up of three quarks. The most familiar baryons are the protons and neutrons that make up most of the atoms, but some baryons are more exotic, depending on the quarks they are made from. Quarks are elementary particles (as opposed to composite particles, like baryons); there are  six types of quarks, known as flavors: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.

The two newfound baryons are higher-energy configurations, and their masses had been estimated on a theory called quantum chromodynamics (QCD), which describes the strong force – one of the four fundamental forces, responsible in part for nuclear attractions. The fact that the theoretical predictions fitted perfectly with what was observed in experiments is remarkable.

“This is a validation that the theoretical approach is the correct one and that we have the calculation under control,” says theorist Richard Woloshyn of the Canadian particle physics laboratory TRIUMF, who published a prediction of the Xib masses in 2009.


Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Particle accelerator only 30cm in size is hundred times faster than LHC

Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have devised a particle accelerator that can increase the kinetic energy of particles passing through it hundreds of times faster than the LHC. While the latter is comprised of a 27km ring, the device made by the US scientists is only 30cm in size. This massive leap in miniaturization could drastically reduce the cost of bulky and expensive medical devices like X-rays, lasers or radiotherapy. Some of these sell for more than a million dollars, and a big chunk of the cost and storage size is reserved to the particle accelerators.

Cheaper, faster particle accelerators

Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Particle accelerators transfer energy so that protons, electrons or positrons (anti-electron) can reach ever higher energies. When these particles are collided at these tremendous speeds, funny things start to happen. If billions of collisions are made, chances have it that all sorts of elementary particles, some lasting only a fraction of a second, can be seen. This is how the famed Higgs boson was confirmed at CERN only a few years ago. In a way, a high-energy particle accelerator like the LHC at CERN is a time machine, because it replicates conditions similar to those in place mere moments following the Big Bang.

[RELATED] Large Hadron Collider creates mini big bangs and incredible heat

Now, the LHC is a lot different than smaller particle accelerators like those used in medicine. For one, the LHC accelerates hadrons (protons, neutrons and subatomic particles) in a huge energy flux (luminosity) by “rf cavities” – a sort of black box that  transfers electromagnetic energy into the kinetic energy of particles, accelerating them. Multiple such cavities are used, but they have to be carefully placed to avoid lightning-like discharges of energy.This is mainly why the LHC needs such a large accelerating ring.

Other applications, however, don’t require a high luminosity. In medicine, particle accelerators use electrons (instead of hadrons) and don’t require high luminosity, which is helpful to generate multiple collisions. Instead of rf cavities, the accelerator made SLAC uses  a short column of lithium vapour “plasma” in rapid succession, whose electric field is able to transport energy to electrons hundreds of times faster than the LHC – all with a device 30cm in size.

[INTERESTING] Particle accelerator on a chip

Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter.  Plasma is a cloud of protons, neutrons and electrons where all the electrons have come loose from their respective molecules and atoms, giving the plasma the ability to act as a whole rather than as a bunch of atoms. A plasma is more like a gas than any of the other states of matter because the atoms are not in constant contact with each other, but it behaves differently from a gas. Between particles in plasma, the electric field can be very high and as electrons pass through the plasma in the SLAC experiment, they acquire energy.

So, how could this translate into practical applications? Well, the prime candidate, as already mentioned, is the field of medicine. Handheld particle weapons might also be possible. Whatever we’ll see happening, the LHC won’t become obsolete any time soon. On the contrary, ever bigger hadron accelerators are being considered, like the 100 TeV machine in China.

Findings appeared in the journal Nature. The paper’s abstract:

“High-efficiency acceleration of charged particle beams at high gradients of energy gain per unit length is necessary to achieve an affordable and compact high-energy collider. The plasma wakefield accelerator is one concept1, 2, 3 being developed for this purpose. In plasma wakefield acceleration, a charge-density wake with high accelerating fields is driven by the passage of an ultra-relativistic bunch of charged particles (the drive bunch) through a plasma4, 5, 6. If a second bunch of relativistic electrons (the trailing bunch) with sufficient charge follows in the wake of the drive bunch at an appropriate distance, it can be efficiently accelerated to high energy. Previous experiments using just a single 42-gigaelectronvolt drive bunch have accelerated electrons with a continuous energy spectrum and a maximum energy of up to 85 gigaelectronvolts from the tail of the same bunch in less than a metre of plasma7. However, the total charge of these accelerated electrons was insufficient to extract a substantial amount of energy from the wake. Here we report high-efficiency acceleration of a discrete trailing bunch of electrons that contains sufficient charge to extract a substantial amount of energy from the high-gradient, nonlinear plasma wakefield accelerator. Specifically, we show the acceleration of about 74 picocoulombs of charge contained in the core of the trailing bunch in an accelerating gradient of about 4.4 gigavolts per metre. These core particles gain about 1.6 gigaelectronvolts of energy per particle, with a final energy spread as low as 0.7 per cent (2.0 per cent on average), and an energy-transfer efficiency from the wake to the bunch that can exceed 30 per cent (17.7 per cent on average). This acceleration of a distinct bunch of electrons containing a substantial charge and having a small energy spread with both a high accelerating gradient and a high energy-transfer efficiency represents a milestone in the development of plasma wakefield acceleration into a compact and affordable accelerator technology.”

Artist's impression of a proton-proton collision producing a pair of gamma rays (yellow) in the ATLAS detector (Image: CERN)

Human eye inspired processor is 400 times faster at detecting sub-atomic particles

Artist's impression of a proton-proton collision producing a pair of gamma rays (yellow) in the ATLAS detector (Image: CERN)

Artist’s impression of a proton-proton collision producing a pair of gamma rays (yellow) in the ATLAS detector (Image: CERN)

Inspired by the properties of the human eye, physicists have created a processor that can analyze sub-atomic particles 400 times faster than the current state of the art. The prototype might significantly speed up the analysis of data from the collisions of particles in high-end particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider, at CERN, as early as 2020.

Faster than the blink of an eye

The processor employs a detection algorithm that works much in the same way as the human retina. In our retinas,  individual neurons are specialized to respond to particular shapes or orientations and locally analyze these patterns. This way, the brain is never consciously aware of the processing itself and only interprets the results. Analogously, the “artificial retina” detects a snapshot of the trajectory of each collision which is then immediately analysed, according to CERN physicist Diego Tonelli, one of the collaborators who was involved in the project.

During these collisions, particles are accelerated near the speed of light and smashed together. At these extremely high energies, peculiar things start to happen and new matter is born. Each second the LHC generats some 40 million collisions and each can result in hundreds of charged particles, which are the only kind whose trajectories can be mapped. Clearly, speed is of the essence and the ‘artificial retina’ will definitely come in handy.

“It’s 400 times faster than anything existing or foreseen for high energy physics applications. If implemented in a real experiment it will allow us to collect more interesting data more quickly,” the researchers write.

The LHC received a lot of hype in recent years, after the breakthrough moment of modern physics when the Higgs boson was confirmed using the particle accelerator.  However, the ‘artificial retina’ won’t be employed for experiments that probe elementary particles, like the Higgs boson. Instead, it will be mostly used for ‘flavor physics’, which deals with the interaction of the basic components of matter, the quarks.

“When our detectors take these snapshots of the collisions – to us that’s like the picture that your eye sees and when your brain is scanning that picture and making sense of it, well we try and codify those rules into an algorithm that we run on computers that do the job for us automatically,” Prof Shears said.

“When the LHC continues… we will start to operate with a more intense beam of protons getting a much higher data rate, and then this problem of sifting out what you really want to study becomes really really pressing,” she added.

“This artificial retinal algorithm is one of the latest steps in our mission to [understand the Universe], and it’s really good, it does the job vast banks of computers normally do.”

Right now, the LHC is shutdown for maintenance, but it’s due to come back online in 2015 and resume its hunt for elusive particles. The algorithm won’t be introduced before 2020, however, when an upgrade is slated. The findings were documented in a paper published in the pre-print arXiv server.



A view of the LHCb experiment at underground Point 8 on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The prominent tube is the LHC beam pipe, in which protons circulate at close to the speed of light (Image: Anna Pantelia/CERN)

New exotic subparticle confirmed by LHC scientists

Once with the discovery and confirmation of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva proved its money worth and garnered international appraise. Despite the LHC is currently shutdown for its periodical maintenance (the restart procedure is well underway, with the particle accelerator expected to become fully operational again in 2015), physicists aren’t slaking. The data gathered from experiments performed at the LHC is enough to keep scientists busy for years to come. For instance,  the LHCb collaboration, who run one of four large experiments at the LHC, confirms the existence of a new exotic particle, first discovered in Japan a few years ago.

At the turn of the last century, things were much simpler for the lives of physicists. We knew all matter is comprised of molecules and atoms, which at their own turn are comprised of a nuclear core (made up of protons and neutrons) and an orbiting electron shell. Physics has long evolved past this basic knowledge however, once with quantum field theory. Following the first particle colliders, both in space and on Earth, physicists have found that particles are comprised of a number of truly elementary subparticles, like quarks, leptons or bosons. Then there’s a slew of so-called hypothetical subparticles predicted by supersymmetry, but as of yet unconfirmed.

Exotic hadron

A view of the LHCb experiment at underground Point 8 on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The prominent tube is the LHC beam pipe, in which protons circulate at close to the speed of light (Image: Anna Pantelia/CERN)

A view of the LHCb experiment at underground Point 8 on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The prominent tube is the LHC beam pipe, in which protons circulate at close to the speed of light (Image: Anna Pantelia/CERN)

In 2008 the Belle Collaboration in Japan reported the observation of a new exotic particle, the  Z(4430)–  (of negative charge). The initial readings suggested that the particle has a mass that puts it in a dense forest of charmonium states (particles made up of specific quarks like charm quark and charm antiquark), yet all particles in this state have a neutral charge.

This is where the LHC step in to elucidate. Researchers here performed more than 180 trillion collisions resulting in 25,000 decays of mesons  (quarks paired with antiquarks). After finally shifting through all the date, researchers have announced recently that the existence of Z(4430) with extremely high confidence: significance of 13.9 sigma, well above the usual 5 sigma threshold required to declare a discovery. The LHCb didn’t just confirm the particle, however, it went on to characterize its state – spin and polarity.

“The significance of the Z (4430) signal is overwhelming – at least 13.9 sigma – confirming the existence of this state,” says LHCb spokesperson Pierluigi Campana. “The LHCb analysis establishes the resonant nature of the observed structure, proving that this is really a particle, and not some special feature of the data.”

Now that the Z(4430)  particle has been confirmed by two independent experiments, physicists can concentrate on unraveling its nature. For instance, it’s believed the particle is the firmest evidence yet of a tetraquark – a four-quark state. LHC physicists believe the particle  is most likely to be made of a charm, anti-charm, down and anti-up quark. A truly exotic particle,  Z(4430)   isn’t likely to be alone. No doubt more similar findings will come off the LHC project, once it goes back online.

The findings were reported in a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters.


The LHC is gearing up for long-awaited restart


Photo: LHC @ CERN

The Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is the most complex machinery devised by mankind. Here, scientists all over the world joined forces to recreate conditions similar those in the very first moments of the Universe, following the Big Bang. There’s a lot at stake here, and so far the LHC has delivered on some of its promises. In 2013, however, the massive particle accelerator had to be shutdown for maintenance. Today the long process leading to the LHC’s planned full operational restart in 2015 has begun.

LHC: restart

Getting the LHC back online isn’t like oiling up some old machinery then hitting the power button. It’s an incredibly complex system, with large volumes of intricate parts, each needing fine tuning and maintenance to work together as a whole.

“The accelerator complex has to start months before the LHC is back online because it’s going to need some serious TLC (in the form of recommissioning, debugging and tuning) following the shutdown,” LHC operation head Mike Lamont told Symmetry Magazine.

The 27-km long particle accelerator ring at CERN is world famous, but this isn’t where all the magic happens. In fact the facility is comprised of multiple, smaller accelerators all, however, indispensable.  Each of these accelerators ramp up particle energy in steady increments until they’re ready to hit the fan with big boys in the huge, main ring.

[ALSO READ] The LHC can be the world’s first time machine

One such component in this huge daisy-chain is “the source”. Here the reservoir of protons that are prompted to enormous energies first gather, as hydrogen atoms are stripped of this electrons, leaving only the protons behind to be inserted in the accelerator. This source was put back online last Friday. This week, engineers will gear up the  Linac2, the first particle accelerator that gives the “beam” of protons their first boost. Next, the Proton Synchrotron Booster, which has seen some significant improvements since the shutdown.

“When we get the beam going around the booster, it will be a very important moment,” said Paul Collier, the head of the beams department. “Among other things, we are making a complete upgrade of its control system, which is the nervous system of the machine.”

In all, it will take a couple of solid months of fine tuning and tests until each part of the chain is in proper order and the LHC can be put to good use once more. A key question might trouble some of you: what’s all of this for?

LHC: what is it good for?

The benefits coming from huge scientific projects like the LHC are indirect and most commonly overlooked by society. Unlike industrial technical projects, the LHC is mainly at its core a fundamental science project. It’s main mission is to answer important questions surrounding the Universe, so what it brings to the world is knowledge; knowledge that’s not sought after in the interest of making money or offering something practical to society in the short term, like a manufacturing factory or an R&D facility that researchers the next line of consumer products or better oil drills. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any practical, day-to-day benefits, far from it – it’s just that this isn’t an immediate goal for LHC.

[READ] LHC passes hardest test yet: ping-pong blazes through particle accelerator

“Why paying billions to search for a hypothetical particle while we need a cure for cancer?”. If you ask yourself “how does a modern computer CPU work?” you can trace it back to development of the semiconductor diode by German physicist K. F. Braun, in the end of the XIX century. He wasn’t trying to build a computer, not like the ones we see today; the kind you’re reading this article on. So while all of society’s machinery and gadgets are brought by technical innovation and design, ultimately all of this comes from basic and fundamental science.

The internet, GPS, satellites, all of these were introduced following great science projects like the moon race. New fundamental science, like quantum mechanics, had to be understood for all of these innovation to come to life. The same will surely be for the brain children that come off the LHC; the general public only needs to have faith, as those who have pledged the billions that were awarded for its construction and maintenance.

Either way, since it first accelerator its first protons in 2009, the LHC has already achieved more than many had bargained. In 2012, with much acclaim scientists announced the discovery of a new ‘boson’ – the Higgs boson. This is believed to be the elementary subparticle responsible for giving matter mass. It’s a fantastic, ground-breaking find, but of course this isn’t the only one of its kind. Here’s a list of all the hallmark discoveries made by the LHC thus far. Many of these aren’t known to the general public the way the Higgs boson was publicized, but are no less important.



Elementary particles predicted by the Standard Model and discovered that make up the Universe. (C) AAAS

Higgs boson discovery confirmed after CERN scientists reviewed massive LHC data

The science of physics has entered a new era once with the discovery of the much sought-after Higgs boson in July 2012. The elementary particle thought to be responsible for granting matter its mass has been theorized for decades, but only with the deployment of the multi-billion Large Hadron Collider in Geneva could such a quest commence. Years of hard work, painstaking analysis, and a fine eye for detail have paid off eventually. Mixed emotions tried the team of researchers that headed the Higgs boson experiments after the monumental findings – what if they were wrong? Recently, an international panel of scientists has confirmed and cemented the discovery of the boson that has eluded physicists for all these years, after they reviewed massive amounts of data in the wake of the find.

The Higgs boson was first theorized in 1964 what of the need to fill in gaps in our understanding of the Universe. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the “God particle,” since its believed it grants all particles, and thus all matter, with size, shape, and mass.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said Joe Incandela, a physicist who heads one of the two main teams at CERN, each involving several thousand scientists.

Elementary particles predicted by the Standard Model and discovered that make up the Universe. (C) AAAS

Elementary particles predicted by the Standard Model and discovered make up the Universe. (C) AAAS

In order to confirm its existence and learn more about the subatomic particles, both the Atlas and CMS teams went through and analyzed more than two and a half more data than they had at their disposal when they first announced they had come across a particle that is very Higgs-like. The most important properties of a subatomic particle are considered to be it spin and parity.

“Now we’ve got more precise questions: is this particle a Higgs boson, and if so, is it one compatible with the Standard Model?” said Tony Weidberg, Oxford University physicist and a collaborator on the Atlas experiment.

At the  Moriond conference in Italy, scientists at CERN reported that their entire data sets from 2011 and 2012 strongly suggest that the new found particle’s spin is zero, making it the first elementary particle with such a property. Luckily, the finds are on par with Standard Model of Physics predictions so far. Another theory of physics however, called supersymmetry, predicts that in fact a number of various and different Higgs bosons exists.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said  Incandela.

This will require even more data and experiments to determine. Considering the LHC is slated for a two year shut down for maintenance, it might take a while.

New enthusiasm in quest for Higgs Boson

Heartened by a glimpse of what may have been the Higgs boson, researchers at the CERN physics lab continue to smash particles in a quest to understand how the Universe works at a submolecular level, why do particles have mass, and many other such cosmic riddles.

But rather than the end of the line, the July 4th unveiling of a boson with Higgs-like characteristics opens new scientific frontiers and raises even more questions. But in order to proceed in this line, researchers first have to find irrefutable proof that the particle they found is indeed the Higgs boson – and they have a lot of time to do this.

An artist rendition of the Higgs boson emerging after a collision

“The LHC is made to last another twenty-odd years, exactly to allow us to immerse ourselves in this field of research, of which we have barely scratched the surface,” said Bernard Ille, research director of France’s CNRS institute.

Confirming the Higgs boson would validate the Standard Model, a theory that identifies and pinpoints the characteristics of the building blocks of matter and the particles that convey fundamental forces. It’s indeed great to see that researchers are fully motivated to pursue the quest.

“Once we understand this, there are many other avenues that open up because the boson itself posed a serious theoretical problem,” said Yves Sirois, one of the CMS’ directors. “Truly, it opens the door to a new level of physics” — understanding such physics mind-benders as supersymmetry. “It is likely that by raising the energy levels in the LHC in a few years we shall be capable of discovering dark matter,” said Sirois.

Transition Radiation Detector determines highest-energy particle velocities Silicon Trackers follow particle paths; how they bend reveals their charge Permanent Magnet is core component of AMS and makes particles curve Time-of-flight Counters determine lowest-energy particle velocities Star Trackers scan star fields to establish AMS's orientation in space Cerenkov Detector makes accurate velocity measurements of fast particles Electromagnetic Calorimeter measures energy of impacting particles Anti-coincidence Counter filters signal from unwanted side particles

ISS’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is like an LHC in space – already boasting fantastic results

Alright, the analogy might not be the best. The Large Hadron Collider is a high energy particle accelerator, while the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is a state of the art particle detector, which traps high-energy charged particles called cosmic rays and analyzes them. You see, the AMS can practically perform the same functions as the LHC, only the high energy particles don’t need to be created – they’re harvested from nature, detecting high-energy particles “from the source”, which might eventually lead to tantalizing signs of dark energy or dark matter. In many respects, the AMS is better for science than the LHC, despite both are currently indisputable and dependent from one another.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, as a project, has been in the works for nearly two decades. After a number of delays, budget cuts and the likes, the seven-tonne giant was launched into space about Endeavour, the last shuttle mission, where it docked with the ISS as module some 18 months ago.

“It took more than 35 missions to build the International Space Station – very complicated space shuttle flights – to construct this incredible laboratory in space,” said Endeavour mission commander Mark Kelly told

“When we installed AMS, that was the last piece of the ISS, then the space station was complete. This is really the pinnacle of the science that ISS will do, in my opinion the most significant experiment we have on board.”

AMS – the pinnacle of space science

In fact the AMS was the last planned part of the International Space Station, making it fully complete after many years and resources invested. Last but not least, that is, as the AMS is the largest and most important experiment in space ever. Since it went into operation, the AMS has so far gathered some 18 billion “cosmic ray”; some of these might hold the key to unraveling the Universe’s mysteries.

Transition Radiation Detector determines highest-energy particle velocities  Silicon Trackers follow particle paths; how they bend reveals their charge  Permanent Magnet is core component of AMS and makes particles curve  Time-of-flight Counters determine lowest-energy particle velocities  Star Trackers scan star fields to establish AMS's orientation in space  Cerenkov Detector makes accurate velocity measurements of fast particles  Electromagnetic Calorimeter measures energy of impacting particles  Anti-coincidence Counter filters signal from unwanted side particles

Transition Radiation Detector determines highest-energy particle velocities
Silicon Trackers follow particle paths; how they bend reveals their charge
Permanent Magnet is core component of AMS and makes particles curve
Time-of-flight Counters determine lowest-energy particle velocities
Star Trackers scan star fields to establish AMS’s orientation in space
Cerenkov Detector makes accurate velocity measurements of fast particles
Electromagnetic Calorimeter measures energy of impacting particles
Anti-coincidence Counter filters signal from unwanted side particles

The team has already noted an excess of extremely high-energy positrons – the antimatter equivalent of electrons – and atomic nuclei at 9 teraelectronvolts (TeV) – higher even than the LHC can produce. The scientists involved in the project, however, aren’t too quick on publishing hasty results. The AMS collects hundreds of times per second, and a team of scientists at CERN is constantly monitoring particles 24/7 in shifts. So far, only a few percent of the data has been analyzed.

I have told my collaborators that in the next 40-50 years it is very unlikely people will be so foolish as to repeat this experiment, given the difficulty I ran into,” said Nobel laureate Sam Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has led the project since its inception some 17 years ago.

“Therefore it’s extremely important when we publish a result, we publish it correctly, because otherwise you’ll certainly mislead physics and there’s no way to check us.”

Indeed, news from the AMS should be really interesting to follow in the coming years.

source: BBC