Ten years after the discovery of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider is about to smash protons with unprecedented energy levels in its quest to uncover more secrets about how the universe works.
The The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator kicked off again in April after a three-year hiatus for upgrades in preparation for its third run.
Starting tomorrow, it will run around the clock for nearly four years at a record energy of 13.6 trillion electron volts, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced at a press conference last week.
It will send two beams of protons — particles in the nucleus of an atom — in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light around a 17-mile-long ring buried 100 meters below the Swiss-French border.
The resulting collisions will be recorded and analyzed by thousands of scientists as part of a series of experiments, including ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb, that will use the enhanced capability to investigate dark matter, dark energy and other fundamental mysteries.
“We aim to deliver 1.6 billion proton-proton collisions per second” for the ATLAS and CMS experiments, said Mike Lamont, CERN’s head of accelerators and technology.
This time, the proton beams will be narrowed to less than 10 microns — a human hair is about 70 microns thick — to increase the speed of impact, he added.
The new energy velocity will allow them to further investigate the Higgs boson, which the Large Hadron Collider first observed on July 4, 2012.
The discovery revolutionized physics, in part because the boson fit within the Standard Model — the general theory of all fundamental particles that make up matter and the forces that control them.
However, several recent findings have raised questions about the Standard Model, and the newly upgraded accelerator will delve deeper into the Higgs boson.
“The Higgs boson is related to some of the most profound open questions in fundamental physics today,” said CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti, who first announced the boson’s discovery a decade ago.
Compared to the first run of the collider that discovered the boson, there will be 20 times more collisions this time.
“This is a significant increase, paving the way for new discoveries,” said Mr. Lamont.
Joachim Mnich, head of research and computer science at CERN, said there is much more to learn about the boson.
“Is the Higgs boson really a fundamental particle or is it a composite?” he asked.
“Is it the only Higgs-like particle that exists — or are there others?”
‘New physics season’
Previous experiments have determined the mass of the Higgs boson, as well as more than 60 composite particles predicted by the Standard Model, such as the tetraquark.
But Gian Giudice, head of CERN’s theoretical physics department, said observing particles is only part of the job.
“Particle physics doesn’t just want to understand the how — our goal is to understand the why,” he said.
One of the Large Hadron Collider’s nine experiments is ALICE, which examines the matter that existed in the first 10 microseconds after the Big Bang, and LHCf, which uses the collisions to simulate cosmic rays.
After this run, the accelerator will return in 2029 as the High-Luminosity LHC, increasing the number of detectable events by a factor of 10.
In addition, the scientists are planning a Future Circular Collider – a 100 km ring that aims to reach energies as high as 100 trillion electron volts.
But for now, physicists eagerly await the results of the Large Hadron Collider’s third run.
“A new physics season is starting,” CERN said.