Large Hadron Collider breaks energy record

The European Organization for
Nuclear Research, or Cern, said beams of protons circulated at 3.5 trillion
electron volts in both directions around the 17-mile tunnel housing the LHC
under the Swiss-French border at Geneva. That is three times more energy than
it has ever achieved before.

The next major development is
expected in a few days when CERN starts colliding the beams in a new round of research
to examine the tiniest particles and forces within the atom in hopes of finding
out more about how matter is made up.

The collider in December had
already eclipsed the record of the next most powerful machine, the Tevatron at
Fermilab outside Chicago, which has been running just short of a trillion
electron volts, or TeV.

The extra energy in Geneva is
expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle
physics, such as the existence of dark energy and matter. Scientists hope also
to approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the
Big Bang, which they theorise was the creation of the universe some 14 billion
years ago.

CERN has reported a series of
successes since the collider was restarted last year after 14 months of repairs
and improvements following a spectacular failure when scientists initially
tried to get the machine going.

CERN improved the machine during a
2½-month winter shutdown to be able to operate at the higher energy.

“Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV
is testimony to the soundness of the LHC’s overall design, and the improvements
we’ve made since the breakdown in September 2008,” said Steve Myers,
CERN’s director for accelerators and technology.

When the collisions start at the
new, higher energy, CERN plans to run the collider continuously for 18-24
months, much longer than previously.

This is because the machine
operates at near absolute zero degrees, colder than outer space and shutting it
off can require months to bring the equipment up to room temperature for any
checks, repairs or improvements, CERN said.

After two years of running the LHC
will be shut down for about a year and the specialists will install
improvements and make other changes to enable the collider to operate at its
design energy of 7 TeV in each direction to produce collisions of 14 TeV.

The Large Hadron Collider was also
built to examine suspected phenomena like antimatter and search for the Higgs
boson, which scientist theorise gives mass to other particles and thus to other
objects and creatures in the universe.

The LHC was launched with great
fanfare in Sept 2008, but it was sidetracked nine days later when a badly
soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to the
massive superconducting magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet
(100 meters) below the ground.

CERN had to undertake a $40 million
program of repairs and improvements before it was ready to retry the machine at
the end of November. Then the collider performed almost flawlessly, giving
scientists valuable data in the four-week run before Christmas.

CERN specialists have checked out
and improved electrical connections and other parts throughout the machine.

At its greatest energy in December
the atom smasher collided two beams of circulating particles at 1.18 trillion
electron volts, or TeV, about 20 per cent higher than the previous record set
at Fermilab.

During that December run each of
the LHC’s four major experiments, ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb recorded over a
million particle collisions for scientists around the world to analyse.