February 22, 2010

Large Hadron Collider Ramped Up For Big Bang Quest

Scientists are preparing for a new crusade in the exploration of the secrets of the universe, when in the days ahead, they will restart the world's most powerful atom-smasher, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said on Sunday.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 5.6 billion dollar project, was shut down in December to ready it for upcoming collisions at unprecedented levels of energy. It was run for a few weeks after being repaired from a 14 month breakdown.

The LHC, a 16.8 mile tunnel running along the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, will be used to collide millions of particles in an attempt to understand the origins of the universe by recreating the conditions that occurred just after the Big Bang.

CERN spokesman James Gillies told AFP that researchers should be "getting beams back in the LHC between Monday and Wednesday, with the first high energy collisions -- coming two to four weeks later." This is part of the scheduled process when the LHC was switched off in December, Gillies added.

In the few short weeks before the scheduled shutdown, the collider achieved over a million particle collisions and accelerated proton beams that reached never-before seen energy levels. A world record energy level of 2.36 teraelectronvolts (TeV) was reached, according to CERN. However, the scientists want to achieve 7.0 TeV.

If achieved, the unfathomable energy levels will simulate the conditions that existed around the time when the Big Bang occurred. They are hoping to keep the collider running at those levels for 18 to 24 months, before its next scheduled technical shutdown in late 2011. Eventually, scientists want to reach 14 TeV -- the LHC's design limit.

Before the LHC experiment, the maximum energy level achieved was 0.98 TeV. In comparison, one TeV is the equivalent of the energy motion achieved by a flying mosquito.

During the shutdown of the LHC, workers strengthened the accelerator to handle the higher electrical currents that are necessary to achieve the enormous energy levels. Upgrades to the cryogenic cooling system were also implemented.

The LHC aims to resolve physics problems including dark matter and dark energy. Scientists are ultimately looking for a theoretical component called the Higgs Boson, or the "God Particle". It is believed that the component will explain how particles acquire mass.


On the Net: