What’s Next For The Super Collider?
After the discovery of the Higgs Boson some people wondered what was next for the CERN super collider but physicists were already planning upgrades both to the giant accelerator itself, as well as to what are referred to as the experiments, in other words, the various detectors which are used to observe the results of high-speed particle collisions.
Among other things the collider will be operating at nearly double the previous energy level, meaning the amount of energy put into the particles and hence their mass, is increased dramatically to 13 TeV (Terra electron Volts), – 6.5 TeV for each of the two beams which travel in different directions to collide with the new energy. Think of this as a car collision where the car isn’t hitting a wall with its own energy but goes head on into another vehicle going the same speed.
What will they discover when the new collision energy levels are finally achieved?
Well, no one actually knows which is the whole point.
While the discovery of the Higgs Boson exactly at the mass predicted to confirm The Standard Model (what scientists call the currently understood structure of the sub-atomic world), the new, higher energy levels to be produced tomorrow are bringing sub-atomic physics into entirely unexplored territory.
Science enthusiasts can follow the events live on the CERN blog at home.web.cern.ch where you can read step-by-step updates on the process of increasing the power applied to the accelerator.
Warning, this is for real science fans, there are unlikely to be any dramatic events occur and most of the science will take place in computer analysis of test results over the next six months or so, but this is every bit as big an event in science as landing the first man on the moon.
This is really the first step into a new realm.
But while the actual event will probably be a bit dull, the changes to the equipment and potential science are dramatically new.
What was done during the down-time?
Part of the changes were due to a planned maintenance routine which eventually resulted in replacing 18 of the 1232 superconducting magnets which help confine and accelerate the particle beam.
When it was designed experimental physicists and engineers knew that improvements in materials and scientific discoveries would allow for improved performance with future modifications.
As part of a safety program, 10k plus electrical connections were improved so they could more easily handle the 11,000 amp current they would have to carry at maximum output.
Their Goal Was What?
Interestingly enough, one goal of the improvements was to actually reduce the number of particles involved in each collision – while few of the particles in each packet actually collided, since there were 170,000,000,000 particles in each packet and they collided every 50 nanoseconds, even a tiny percentage of “hits” produce so much data that the computers were having difficulty keeping up with the data.
A nanosecond is one billionth of a second (1/1,000,000,000) the distance light can move one foot (30 cm.). At the speed the particles are moving in the LHC the proton swarms are separated by about 25 feet – about two stories or 7.5 meters.
The new setup has fewer particles in an individual packet but the space between them is only half as large, enabling the data collection to produce more information but still keep up.
Nothing Important Expected
Of course while nothing really important is expected to be found in the initial ramp up of the LHC, it is always possible that even the first day’s data could provide us with some amazing new discovery about the universe.
But don’t expect the LHC to suddenly produce a massive amount of anti-matter ready to power the first generation of warp ships. Although it certainly will produce antimatter, the tiny amounts produced are insignificant except to scientists – it will surprise many to learn that their local hospital generates antimatter every day – that is if they still have a PET scanner – PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography.
Positrons are the antimatter particle which is the mirror image of the electron.
When you hear anti-science types ranting about the dangers posed by the LHC remember that without scientific advances barbers would still be doing surgery.