Saturday 22 July 2017

Large Hadron Collider achieves success with high energy particle collisions

Scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher at a European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva celebrate today's breakthrough
Scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher at a European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva celebrate today's breakthrough

Richard Alleyne

The Large Hadron Collider was finally up and running today crashing two particles together and opening a "new era in science".

After years of setbacks, the €5.5bn machine finally achieved high energy collisions of two protons at 12.06pm British time, at a total energy of seven trillion electron volts - more than three times more force than ever before.

All four detectors around the 27km underground track picked up evidence of collision "events" which could when analysed completely re-write the rules of physics.

Dr Lyn Evans, the Welsh scientist who led the construction of the machine, said: "It is quite emotional. We had a few problems but we have resolved them and the beams came into collision beautifully.

"Today is the end of a very long road. There has been some bumps along the way. It is absolutely fantastic to see this today.

"It is a new era of science."

The experiment at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), which aims to recreate the Big Bang at the beginning of the Universe 13.7billion years ago, will allow researchers to examine the nature of matter and the origin of stars and planets.

Scientists at a control room near Geneva broke into applause when the first successful collisions were recorded.

Dubbed the world's largest scientific experiment, the giant atom smasher holds the promise of revealing details about theoretical particles and microforces, scientists say.

But initial attempts on Tuesday were unsuccessful because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working on the massive machine.

That meant that the protons had to be "dumped" from the collider and new beams had to be injected.

Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy in opposite directions around the 27km tunnel under the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

The beams were pushed to 3.5 trillion electron volts in recent days, the highest energy achieved by any physics accelerator — some three times greater than the previous record.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is trying to use the powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of particles.

They could have been successful immediately, but such huge machines can be so tricky to run that it could take days.

When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that few will collide at each crossing.

The problems on Tuesday started with a power supply that tripped and had to be reset. The second time, the system designed to protect the machine shut it down.

That was likely to have been a misreading by the system rather than any basic problem, said researchers.

The collisions quash fears that the machine would imperil the Earth by creating micro black holes — subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.

The Large Hadron Collider was launched with great fanfare on September 10, 2008, but it was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground.

It cost €33m to repair and improve the machine so that it could be used again at the end of November. Since then the collider has performed almost flawlessly, giving scientists valuable data in the four-week run before Christmas.

It soon eclipsed the next largest accelerator — the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists theorise gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.

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.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director-general of CERN, has said it is likely to take months before any scientific discoveries are made, partly because computers will have to sort through massive amounts of data produced by the collisions.

Heuer said researchers hope by the end of this year to make discoveries into the dark matter that scientists believe comprises 26 percent of the universe. The better understood visible matter makes up only 4pc of the universe.

Dark matter has been theorised by scientists to account for missing mass and bent light in faraway galaxies. Scientists believe it makes galaxies spin faster.

A separate entity called "dark energy," making up the remaining 70pc of the universe, is believed linked to the vacuum that is evenly distributed in space and time. It is believed to accelerate the expansion of the universe.

Other possible candidates for discovery are hidden dimensions of space and time.

Physicists have used smaller colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom's nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles.

It's a great day to be a particle physicist," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment, but their patience and dedication is starting to pay dividends," he added.

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