Underneath some nondescript farmland near Geneva, on the border of France and Switzerland, the world’s biggest and most expensive scientific experiment is ready to re-start. LHC at the Cern laboratory – were preparing to switch it on today for the first time in two years, ahead of the next series of experiments.
Two years ago the team operating the £3.74bn machine straddling the Swiss-French border astounded the world with the discovery of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle that gives other particles mass. Now they have their sights set on an even more exotic trophy – dark matter, the invisible, undetectable material that makes up 84 per cent of matter in the universe and binds galaxies together yet whose nature is unknown.
“Now is a very exciting time to be a physicist,” Jon Butterworth, a physics professor at University College London, said during a public lecture at the Perimeter Institute on April 2 discussing the next LHC run.
Engineers hope to introduce two proton beams, the source material for sub-atomic smashups, as part of the recommissioning process.
“The first beams could be circulating in the machine sometime between Saturday and Monday (April 4-6),” CERN said in a statement.
“We are confident of being able to restart the machine over the weekend, as all of the tests performed so far have been successful,” said Frederick Bordry, CERN’s director for accelerators and technology.(A short-circuit in one of the LHC’s magnet circuits last Saturday had delayed the eagerly-awaited restart).
The experiments on LHC require vast power. The beams of proton particles to be smashed together will create a collision with about 13 times the energy of a flying mosquito. Yes, it doesn’t sound much, but that energy is squeezed into a space that is about a trillion times smaller than the insect.
The LHC – a 27km (17 mile) circular tunnel, lined with powerful magnets, that is cooled to below 270 degrees Celsius – has been souped-up so much that Cern describe it as “almost a new machine”.
Arnaud Marsollier, from Cern, which operates the LHC, said: “The LHC will be running day and night. When we will get results we don’t know. What is important is that we will have collisions at energies we’ve never had before.”
At a Cern briefing in Geneva last month, British scientist Professor David Charlton, from the University of Birmingham, who heads the Atlas detector team, said: “We’re heading for unexplored territory. It’s going to be a new era for science.”
“We don’t know what we are going to find,” says Sudan Paramesvaran of Bristol University, who works on the CMS experimentat Cern. “If we did find supersymmetry or dark matter it would have such wide ranging implications not just for particle physics but for the universe in its entirety and astrophysics – it would be one of the most seminal moments of the 21st century.”
Press release: http://goo.gl/ZNHf8f.