After an initial series of setbacks related to technical glitches, the European Organization for Nuclear Research's (CERN) Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle accelerator located outside Geneva has begun to produce results. This week, CERN reported the LHC successfully circulated two 3.5 TeV proton beams, setting a record for the highest energy yet achieved in a particle accelerator. CERN labeled the accomplishment "an important step" on the way to the start of the LHC research program.
The organization said the first attempt to collide beams at 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam) would follow on a date to be announced in the near future. The current LHC run began in early Nov. 2009, with the first circulating beam at 0.45 TeV. Additional records followed soon after, with twin circulating beams established by late November and a world record beam energy of 1.18 TeV being set on Nov. 30. By the time the LHC switched off for 2009 in mid-December, another record had been set with collisions recorded at 2.36 TeV and "significant quantities" of data recorded.
"Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC's overall design, and the improvements we've made since the breakdown in September 2008," explained CERN's director for accelerators and technology, Steve Myers. "And it's a great credit to the patience and dedication of the LHC team."
After the 2.36 TeV collisions, a technical stop ensued at the beginning of 2010, during which the machine was prepared for higher-energy running. Higher energy collisions require higher electrical currents in the LHC magnet circuits. CERN scientists said this places more exacting demands on the new machine protection systems, which have currently been readied for the task. Once 7 TeV collisions have been established, the organization's plan is to run continuously for a period of 18-24 months, with a short technical stop at the end of 2010.
The LHC, the world's largest machine, is the world's highest-energy particle accelerator, intended to collide opposing particle beams of protons at great speed. CERN scientists hope that the LHC will help answer some of the most fundamental questions in physics, including basic laws governing the interactions and forces among the elementary objects, the deep structure of space and time and especially regarding the intersection of quantum mechanics and general relativity. CERN spent more than a year repairing the device, built with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, after, due to a fault between two superconducting bending magnets, the project was brought to halt soon after the first tests began in September 2008.