The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)'s Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion particle accelerator located in Geneva, has set a world record by becoming the world's highest energy particle accelerator, having accelerated its twin beams of protons to an energy of 1.18 teraelectronvolts (TeV). This speed exceeds the previous world record of 0.98 TeV, which had been held by the U.S. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory's Tevatron collider since 2001.
The world record for energy was first broken Sunday evening, when beam 1 was accelerated from 450 GeV, reaching 1,050 GeV (1.05 TeV). Three hours later, both LHC beams were successfully accelerated to 1.18 TeV. First physics at the LHC is scheduled for the first quarter of 2010, at a collision energy of 7 TeV, or 3.5 TeV per beam.
"We are still coming to terms with just how smoothly the LHC commissioning is going," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "It is fantastic. However, we are continuing to take it step by step, and there is still a lot to do before we start physics in 2010. I'm keeping my champagne on ice until then."
The organization said the next stage of operation on the schedule is a concentrated commissioning phase aimed at increasing the beam intensity before delivering sufficient quantities of collision data to the experiments before Christmas. CERN explained that so far, all the LHC commissioning work has been carried out with a low-intensity pilot beam, and higher intensity is needed to provide meaningful proton-proton collision rates.
The current commissioning phase is aiming to make sure that these higher intensities can be safely handled and that stable conditions can be assured for the experiments during collisions. CERN predicted this phase will take around a week, after which the LHC will be colliding beams for calibration purposes until the end of the year.
"I was here 20 years ago when we switched on CERN's last major particle accelerator, LEP," said Accelerators and Technology Director Steve Myers. "I thought that was a great machine to operate, but this is something else. What took us days or weeks with LEP, we're doing in hours with the LHC. So far, it all augurs well for a great research program."
Last week, CERN announced that the LHC began circulated two beams simultaneously for the first time, following the reactivation of the device on Nov. 20. Circulating two beams simultaneously allows the operators to test the synchronization of the beams and give the experiments their first chance to look for proton-proton collisions.
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.