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Large Hadron Collider opens new era of physics
DR EMILY BALDWIN
ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: 30 March


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Just hours ago, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN set a new world record, achieving proton collisions at seven trillion electron volts, the highest energy ever achieved by a man-made particle accelerator.

"It's the beginning of a new era of great physics exploration," said a spokesperson for one of the experiments, ATLAS. "This is physics in the making."


The first collisions were met with applause and cheers from packed control rooms at each of the four detectors, broadcast live on this morning's webcast.

ATLAS is the largest detector and together with the other major experiments, LHCb, CMS and ALICE, are set to make significant advances across a wide range of physics, such as recreating conditions present just a few millionths of a second after the big bang and searching for the elusive Higgs particle that is thought to hold the clues to the existence of mass. The experiments will also probe extra dimensions, and investigate the nature of dark matter, and indeed all matter that makes up the Universe.

Beams of protons are fired in opposite directions around an underground 27 kilometre track at almost the speed of light, and at the locations of the four main detectors will cross paths, smashing together while the detectors observe the subatomic debris which may hold some of the answers to some of the Universe's deepest secrets.


A display of the 7 TeV proton collision event in the ATLAS experiment.

"Over the coming months scientists will use data collected at these high energies first to cross-check data and theories from previous experiments, and then to search for particles and forces which we know must exist in the Universe but which have never been observed," says Professor John Womersley, particle physicist and Director of Science Programmes at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which funds the UK particle physics program.

Today's target of seven trillion electron volts (TeV) was reached at 12:06 BST, marking the end of a decades-long journey of planning and preparation, but the start of a two-year campaign that is set to answer some of the currently unresolved questions in physics. Professor Jon Butterworth from the University College London comments, “There is a whole new landscape of physics to explore at these energies. Somewhere in that landscape nature has hidden the way forces are unified and how particles get mass. Today the LHC gets us over the horizon and we start our exploration!”

The LHC will now operate for between 18 months and two years, before undergoing a long shutdown period of roughly one year, to allow vital upgrades that will enable the accelerator to run at its optimum energy of 14 TeV.

Follow the progress of the LHC on Twitter @CERN and read more about the science behind the LHC in our previous report Powering up the world's biggest physics experiment.

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