Ten years after the discovery of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is about to smash protons with unprecedented energy levels in its quest to uncover more secrets about how the universe works.
The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator restarted in April after a three-year hiatus for upgrades in preparation for its third run.
Starting Tuesday, it will run around the clock for nearly four years at a record energy of 13.6 trillion electron volts, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced at a news conference last week.
It will send in two beams of protons – particles in the nucleus of an atom opposite directions at nearly the speed of light around a ring of 27 kilometers (17 mi) buried 100 meters below the Swiss-French border.
The resulting collisions will be recorded and analyzed by thousands of scientists as part of a series of experiments, including ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb, which will use the enhanced capability to probe dark matter† dark energy and other fundamental mysteries.
1.6 billion collisions per second
“We aim to deliver 1.6 billion proton-proton collisions per second” for the ATLAS and CMS experiments, said Mike Lamont, CERN’s chief of accelerators and technology.
This time the proton beams will be narrowed to less than 10 microns – a human hair is about 70 microns thick — to increase the collision speed, he added.
The new energy velocity allows them to further investigate the Higgs boson, which the Large Hadron Collider first observed on July 4, 2012.
The discovery revolutionized physics, in part because the boson fit within the Standard Model — the general theory of all fundamental particles that make up matter and the forces that control them.
However, several recent findings have raised questions about the Standard Model, and the newly upgraded accelerator will delve deeper into the Higgs boson.
“The Higgs boson is related to some of the most profound open questions in fundamental physics today,” said CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti, who first announced the boson’s discovery a decade ago.
Compared to the first run of the collider that discovered the boson, there will be 20 times more collisions this time.
“This is a significant increase, paving the way for new discoveries,” Lamont said.
Joachim Mnich, head of research and computer science at CERN, said there is much more to learn about the boson.
“Is the Higgs boson really a fundamental particle or is it a composite?” he asked.
“Is it the only Higgs-like particle that exists — or are there others?”
‘New physics season’
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 theoretical physics department, said observing particles is only part of the job.
“Particle physics doesn’t just want to understand the how — our goal is to understand the why,” he said.
One of the nine experiments at the Large Hadron Collider is ALICE, which examines the matter that existed in the first 10 microseconds after the Big Bang, and LHCf, which uses the collisions to cosmic rays†
After this run, the accelerator will return in 2029 as the High-Luminosity LHC, increasing the number of detectable events by a factor of 10.
In addition, the scientists are planning a Future Circular Collider – a 100-kilometer ring that aims to reach energies of as much as 100 trillion electron volts.
But for now, physicists eagerly await the results of the Large Hadron Collider’s third run.
“A new physics season is starting,” CERN said.
© 2022 AFP
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