Culture

Large Hadron Collider Gearing Up for Re-Start at End of the Month

After nearly 3 years of repairs and upgrades, the Large Hadron Collider located on the border of France and Switzerland is ready to continue to unlock some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. The machine — the largest and most powerful in the world — will resume operations at the end of March.

The LHC is an oval 17 miles in diameter. Packs containing about 11,000 protons are fired in opposite directions. The packs are accelerated to near relativistic speeds and their collision causes the protons to break into subatomic particles — some of them not found in nature except at the time of the Big Bang. The Higgs bosun — the misnamed “God particle” — was one of those particles and its discovery in 2013 by the LHC team rocked the world of physics.

Run by a consortium of hundreds of scientists, labs, and governments, the LHC is set to tackle the question of dark matter — a phenomena that can’t be seen but can be measured. Most of the universe is made up of dark matter and understanding it will give us hints about the origin and destiny of the universe.

It may also overturn our understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics by revealing previously unknown subatomic particles, helping scientists prove the theory of supersymmetry — a theory that many theoretical physicists consider an elegant means to explain some of the most complex aspects of particle physics. The upgraded LHC will be able to accelerate protons to such stupendous speeds that so-called “partner particles” to already known particles could make an appearance. The right collision may reveal that every type of elementary particle that we know of in nature would have to have partners.

How much power are we talking about? Scientific American breaks down the improvements in the LHC:

Its protons used to collide at energies 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. Particles will begin traveling around the loop at the end of March and if all goes well, the first collisions will start in May. To accommodate the energy uptick engineers made extensive improvements to the facility during the downtime. In particular, they enhanced the interconnections between the ring’s thousands of powerful magnets. The magnets keep the protons moving in a circle; when the protons become more energetic, they require stronger magnetic fields to keep them on track. The magnets that used to produce fields with a strength of 5.9 teslas will now create 7.7-tesla fields.

“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.

In cuckoo land, there is much anticipation of the restart of LHC also, although not quite the same kind of excitement shown by scientists:

Does CERN headquarter’s symbol of Shiva, dancing the cosmic dance of death and destruction, signal the TRUE purpose of CERN’s existence? A look at the ‘Shiva’ (the Hindu God of Destruction) symbology surrounding CERN’s headquarters gives us the beginning of what we need to know. “The men who would play God, in searching for the God particle, are truly going to find more than they bargained for as they open the gates of hell” we are warned by Stephen Quayle, “they will find inter-dimensional beings who have a taste for human flesh and humanities destruction. Most scientists, in lacking an understanding of the ‘supernatural entities’ that are going to confront them, are way beyond their ability to comprehend, let alone control, the forces of Pandora’s box that will be released.”

Um, yeah. Right. I wouldn’t worry about it, though. No doubt the scientists have developed an anti-interdimensional being weapon of some sort. Besides, they can always zap the creatures with 13 trillion electron volts of energy. That would ruin the day of most interdimensional beings with a taste for human flesh, I’m sure.

Of course, there’s always a chance that spectacular new discoveries will elude the scientists. Even with the vastly increased energy output and other improvements, the kind of breakthrough physics the LHC was designed to do might prove to be beyond the machine’s current capabilities. Further upgrades are scheduled for 2023-25, doubling again the power of the collisions. The promise of the Large Hadron Collider will eventually be realized as, in the words of Einstein, “I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are details.”