Last Sunday morning, the world’s most dynamic particle accelerator hummed back to life in the echo of Rolf-Dieter Heuer’s words of encouragement: “Now the hard work starts.”
Heuer is Cern’s general director, supervising the particle physics lab’s activity and the thousands of scientists that make sure the Large Hadron Collider works soundly.
Two years have passed since the accelerator revealed to us the Higgs boson, the “God particle”, and since it was turned back off awaiting significant upgrading. Right now, the machine was rebooted, promising to make history again.
It is yet to be found out what is the next mystery that will be solved. There are several items on the international scientific community’s list that require the accelerator’s input in order to be explained.
On this list we include dark matter, the unseeable element that fabricates over 25 percent of the Universe as we know it; discovering the extra dimensions as sources of gravity’s feeble effects; and the answer for the reason why antimatter isn’t the main ingredient for the world around us.
The machine is set to run for some 20 years, bringing up a most fearful question: what if the accelerator’s only gift to science is the Higgs boson? What if LHC will remain silent, driving scientists into a pit of hopeless fear?
But such thoughts had no place at Sunday’s ceremony. The control room was filled of cheer, along with the Large Hadron Collider’s revival sounds. It is estimated that thousands of scientists from all around the world will use the data provided by the machine to write books, theses, and receive awards over the next 20 years.
If you thought the great LHC woke up by the switch of a button, think again. The machine was prepped weeks in advance, working to bring it at the necessary cool temperature so the protons will travel almost at the speed of light inside the 27 km tunnel.
On Sunday morning, two opposite directed beams of protons safely travelled inside the extremely expensive atom smasher, without a single error. Scientists were excited to see that even after two years of dormancy, the first test went so well.
The first beams, however, did not pass at the maximum speed, as the scientists set them for lower energy at first, soon to be steadily accelerated over the next few months. In almost no time, the giant machine will be humming with protons circulating at nearly twice the initial energy (13 teraelectron volts).
By the time it reaches maximum energy, the Large Hadron Collider will start performing the procedure it was created for: being able to sustain powerful crossing of rays of protons. These events are necessary for the discovery of new laws in the field of physics, or even for the creation of curious particles, never seen before.
During its first waking period, the Large Hadron Collider was kept by supervisors running at half its design energy. This measure was instated due to a weak link that sparked an explosion.
The unfortunate event took place less than two weeks after the atom smasher’s first power on, back in September 2008. More than 24 million pounds were spent by the lab in order to repair the damage caused by the blast.
After the explosion, Cern turned the accelerator back on in 2009, but it ran only at 7TeV as a measure of preventing another accident. This precaution paid off as the discovery of the Higgs boson particle was discovered soon after, in the summer of 2012.
After scientific forums thoroughly studied the finding, Peter Higgs and François Englert were awarded the Nobel prize for their involvement in discovering the particle.
Since 2012, teams of engineers spent their entire dedication to making LHC safer and building protection devices with more than 10,000 connections inside the machine’s elements.
Because a lot of safety protocols need to be followed, the Large Hadron Collider is expected to host its first maximum-energy collision in about two months. During this time, scientists have prepared periodic increasing of the energy, estimating that over the next three years, the machine will collide about 5 times the number of protons smashed until now.
The breakthrough of the Higgs boson featured the completion of the Standard Model, which is a series of equations illustrating the interconnectivity between all the known particles.
Even though the “God’s particle” completed the circle (as we know it), many more particles are still out there, unknown to us. The particles we know now make up only 4 percent of the universe we have discovered so far.
The majority of the incomprehensible cosmos could be explained by finding new laws of physics and particles with the help of the LHC. Because of the short time the accelerator was able to support collisions, scientists are set to create more Higgs particles so they can study and measure their characteristics more accurately.
If all elements align as expected, we should be expecting more news on supersymmetry, dark matter, antimatter and extra dimensions over the next two decades.
Image Source: CERN