Wed, Nov 25, 2009 - Page 6 News List

CERN declares collider success

NEW FRONTIER Scientists hope to learn things such as the origin of the universe, why matter has mass, whether there are parallel dimensions and what ‘dark matter’ really is


Two circulating beams on Monday produced the first particle collisions in the world’s biggest atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), three days after its restart, scientists said.

In a statement, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said two beams circulating simultaneously led to collisions at all four detection points during the afternoon and evening.

“It’s a great achievement to have come this far in so short a time,” CERN director general Rolf Heuer said. “But we need to keep a sense of perspective. There’s still much to do before we can start the LHC physics program.”

CERN had said earlier on Monday the relaunch of the 3.9 billion euro (US$5 billion) collider was “an enormous success” after it was out of action for 14 months because of a serious electrical fault.

Scientists are looking to the collider — inside a 27km tunnel straddling the Franco-Swiss border — to mimic the conditions that followed the Big Bang and help explain the origins of the universe.

“Today the LHC circulated two beams simultaneously for the first time, allowing the operators to test the synchronization of the beams and giving the experiments their first chance to look for proton-proton collisions,” CERN said in its statement. “With just one bunch of particles circulating in each direction, the beams can be made to cross in up to two places in the ring.”

The first collision was picked up at 2:44pm by the Atlas detector beneath the Swiss town of Meyrin, one of several laid out along the route of the world’s most powerful physics experiment.

Smash-ups then followed at the three other detectors, known as CMS, Alice and LHCb.

“It was standing-room-only in the Alice control room and cheers erupted with the first collisions,” Alice spokesperson Jurgen Schukraft said. “This is simply tremendous.”

“The tracks we’re seeing are beautiful,” the CERN statement quoted LHCb spokesperson Andrei Golutvin as saying. “We’re all ready for serious data taking in a few days time.”

Earlier in the day, scientists injected the first sub-atomic particles back into the collider, then got particle beams circulating within the accelerator.

The LHC has an operating life of up to 15 years, and the collisions that it produces should generate masses of data that could unlock mysteries about the creation of the universe and the fundamental nature of matter.

Scientists want to get the collider running at 1.2 teraelectronvolts (TeV) or 1.2 trillion electronvolts by year’s end — with one TeV equal to the energy of a flying mosquito, said a CERN spokeswoman.

That would match the ­maximum output of what now is the largest functioning collider in the world, at the Fermilab near Chicago in the US.

By next year, however, the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 TeV, reaching “close to five” TeV in the second half of next year. Maximum power is 7 TeV.

“Already with 3.5 TeV, we can open new windows into physics. That can already happen next year,” Heuer said earlier on Monday, refraining, however, from predicting how soon fresh data could be generated.

The LHC took nearly 20 years to construct and aims to resolve physics enigmas such as an explanation for “dark matter” and “dark energy” that account for 96 percent of the cosmos and whether other dimensions exist parallel to our own.

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