LHC set to run again

Pretoria - The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, is getting ready for its second three-year run.

Cool-down of the vast machine has already begun in preparation for research to resume early next year following a long technical stop to prepare the machine for running at almost double the energy of run 1.

An engineer is seen working at the Large Ion Collider Experiment. Credit: REUTERS

“There is a new buzz about the laboratory and a real sense of anticipation,” said CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) director-general Rolf Heuer, speaking at a press conference at the EuroScience Open Forum meeting in Copenhagen this week. “Much work has been carried out on the LHC over the last 18 months or so, and it’s effectively a new machine, poised to set us on the path to new discoveries.”

The LHC has been through a major programme of maintenance and upgrading, along with the rest of CERN’s accelerator complex, some elements of which have been in operation since 1959. Some 1 000 superconducting magnet interconnections were consolidated in order to prepare the LHC machine for running at its design energy.

“The machine is coming out of a long sleep after undergoing an important surgical operation,” said Frédérick Bordry, CERN’s director for Accelerators and Technology. “We are now going to wake it up very carefully and go through many tests before colliding beams again.”

The LHC experiments also took advantage of this long pause to upgrade their particle detectors. “The discovery of a Higgs boson was just the beginning of the LHC’s journey,” said senior CERN physicist Fabiola Gianotti. “The increase in energy opens the door to a whole new discovery potential.”

The Higgs boson, first mentioned in a 1964 paper by Peter Higgs, is linked to the mechanism, proposed the same year by Higgs and independently by Robert Brout and François Englert, that gives mass to fundamental particles. During its first three years, the LHC ran at a collision energy of 7 to 8 TeV delivering particle collisions to four major experiments: Atlas, CMS, Alice and LHCb. With the large amount of data provided by the LHC during this first period, the Atlas and CMS experiments were able to announce the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson on July 4, 2012, paving the way for the award of last year’s Nobel Prize in physics to theorists Englert and Higgs.

By providing collisions at energies never reached in a particle accelerator before, the LHC will open a new window for potential discovery, allowing further studies on the Higgs boson and potentially addressing unsolved mysteries such as dark matter.