5 years after the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is just getting started

5 years after the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is just getting started
From TechCrunch - July 5, 2017

Its been five years since physicists at CERN reported (in the understated manner typical of scientists) that they had observed a particle consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson.

The discovery capped decades of theory and was an important triumph for the Large Hadron Collider, the means by which the elusive particle was found. But they didnt close up shop and go home after thatthe LHC, the worlds largest and most powerful particle collider, is just getting up to speed.

You could be forgiven for thinking so, however. Shortly after the discovery of the Higgs, the LHC was shut down for two full years for a full servicing and upgrade. The extreme conditions created in the colliderthink big bang extremewere achieved at 8 teraelectronvolts, the unit of energy they use to gauge the power of the accelerated protons slamming into each other. You create greater forces snapping your fingers, but when you concentrate it into a space millions of times smaller, you can essentially puncture the fabric of reality.

Eight TeV was already an immense increase over the next most powerful systemand the complex is now running at 13 TeV, with plans to go even higher.

The design of the LHC was to reach 14 TeV, but the machine has been working very well, so everyone has the idea that we can push past that, LHC physicist Arturo Snchez Pineda told me.

Protons accelerated to nearly the speed of light in the collider and smashed into each other (at those multi-TeV energy levels) produce all kinds of interesting effects because the forces and temperatures are so huge.

The main problem five to seven years ago was looking for the Higgs boson, because it was extremely obvious it was missing in the theory, he said. But at the same time and in parallel, we have been looking for other thingslike dark matter, supersymmetric particles, very heavy particles. Its important from the point of view of the standard model and physics in general, but they dont call as much attention as the Higgs.

And with colliders, the more energy you have on tap, the better your chances of finding what youre looking for: Its only when forces of cosmic proportion come into play that you get protons splitting into their most exotic sub-particles.

Of course, you cant just turn the dial and get more power out of a system so complex its basically its own city. Part of that is replacing the hardware. For instance, the magnets that guide the protons along their evacuated tubes have been upgraded to cryogenically cooled ones in order to accommodate the increased energy in the stream.

With great power, in this case anyway, comes great amounts of data. The LHC may have taken years to get started, but once its on, its on for as long as they can keep it running.

I can tell you because every day Im in the ATLAS control room: the experiment is running 24 hours a day, Pineda said. Consequently, a lot of the advances are in how the reams of data the LHC produces are handled.


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