The world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, has started coming out of hibernation for a second run of experiments.
Over the last 16 months the LHC, buried beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, has been through a major programme of maintenance and upgrades to double its beam collision energy from 7 teraelectronvolts (TeV) to nearly 14TeV, a move that could open the door to ground-breaking new discoveries.
Research is due to resume early in 2015, but the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) announced today that cool down of the vast machine to its near-absolute zero operating temperature has already begun.
The accelerator chain that supplies the LHC’s particle beams is currently starting up, with beam in the proton synchrotron accelerator for the first time since 2012 last Wednesday.
There is a new buzz about the laboratory and a real sense of anticipation,” said Cern Director General Rolf Heuer, speaking at a press conference at the EuroScience Open Forum, ESOF, meeting in Copenhagen. “Much work has been carried out on the LHC over the last 18 months or so, and it’s effectively a new machine, poised to set us on the path to new discoveries.”
Some 10,000 superconducting magnet interconnections have been consolidated in order to prepare the LHC for running at its full design energy, with the last one closed on 18.
“The machine is coming out of a long sleep after undergoing an important surgical operation,” said Frédérick Bordry, Cern’s Director for Accelerators and Technology. “We are now going to wake it up very carefully and go through many tests before colliding beams again early next year. The objective for 2015 is to run the physics programme at 13 TeV.”
The four experiments collecting and analysing the data from the LHC’s collisions – including the ATLAS and CMS experiments that discovered the Higgs Boson in 2012 – have taken advantage of the long pause to upgrade their particle detectors in preparation for a fresh deluge of data.
“The discovery of a Higgs boson was just the beginning of the LHC’s journey,” said senior Cern physicist Fabiola Gianotti at the same press conference. “The increase in energy opens the door to a whole new discovery potential.”
Among the potential research avenues the new higher energy will facilitate are further studies on the Higgs boson and the potential to address unsolved mysteries such as dark matter and dark energy which are believed to make up about 95 per cent of the universe.